Well Circle onboarding
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Packet 0: Foundations
You Are Here
At The Well: Purpose + Vision + Values
- Introducing Rosh Chodesh
- How Jewish is This Anyway?
- Are Well Circles for Women Only?
- A Well Circle’s Purpose
- Well Circle 101
You Are Here
We hear you want to start a Well Circle. We’re here to help.
Mazal tov on getting yourself here; it’s an accomplishment.
Take a moment to remember the first time you heard of Well Circles. The first time you felt a yes to attend one. Connect with the part of you that felt moved to step up and become a Well Circle organizer.
You are the perfect person to start building a beautiful community filled with meaning, inspiration, and empowerment. But don’t worry, it’s not all on you. In addition to this Foundations packet, we’ve got seven additional topic-focused packets designed to offer new and existing Well Circles support, guidance, and reassurance. Those topics are: Circle Forming, Circle Logistics, Circle Leadership, Circle Upkeep, Modalities, Ritual, and References + Resources.
If you’re an experienced facilitator and organizer, feel free to bring your own style to this process. And, read with an open mind; you may pick up some new ideas.
If you’re new to community building and feeling unsure where to start, use these guides as a blueprint. But keep in mind, almost everything you’ll read here is a suggestion or recommendation, not a directive. If and when we’re talking about something essential to creating a Well Circle, we’ll let you know.
We’re very happy you’re here, adding your voice and wisdom to the collective power of our global Well Circle network. We believe in you, big time.
At The Well:
Purpose + Vision + Values
At The Well is a network that exists to unify ancient Jewish wisdom, modern health science, and the life experiences of real women into content, events, and products that support holistic self-care. We built At The Well to bring together the practices of wellness and holiness for you and women across the world.
We envision a world where women feel whole as a result of their connection to Jewish wisdom and each other.
Cycles + Shechinah: The Divine Femin(ism)
Reviving practices and teachings of Judaism; Jewish time, lunar cycles, and the female body — we align these spiritual practices to support lives infused with greater meaning and wholeness.
Oneness + Individuality: The Interconnectivity of All Things
We treasure the Jewish value of natural connectivity, and believe that the individual plays a fundamental role in the equilibrium of all things. The health of an individual, supports the health of her Well Circle, which in turn supports the health of her local community, the city in which they reside, and the wider global Jewish population. The cultivation of these connections draw us closer to wellness and wholeness.
The individual, the circle, the community; Adoni echad, God is one.
Science + Sanctification: The Holiness of Health
Science bolsters the reasoning behind many ancient Jewish practices; religion and science are greater than the sum of their parts. Sanctity resides in the laws of nature and within the biology of the body.
Growth + Learning: The Journey of Personal Transformation
Learning together is in service to both our personal and collective growth. We encourage women to cultivate and to develop a more complete sense of self through leadership, Jewish learning, wisdom and ritual in communities that they co-create.
SCIENCE + SPIRIT
At The Well believes science and spirituality aren’t as far apart as we may think. Our biggest piece of evidence is something that unites women’s health and Jewish spirituality: the moon.
The Hebrew calendar runs by it, and, as it just so happens, so does the female body.
At The Well surfaces the spiritual aspects of women’s health science — hormonal ebbs and flows, fertility, and breastfeeding, for example. And we reveal the scientific underpinnings of some the most foundational laws and customs of Judaism, whether that’s the effect of gravity on the lunar phases, or the neuroscience of female friendship and community building.
Shared leadership is an essential element of starting, joining, and belonging to a Well Circle.
We encourage Well Circles to adopt a “feminine leadership style.” That is to say, collaborative, shared, and open to creativity. Within Well Circles, leadership rotates. (Kind of like the moon!)
Pretty much everything about how you decide to structure and run your Circle is up to you. Shared, rotating leadership is the one thing we want all Well Circles to have. We offer more thoughts on this in Packet 3: Circle Leadership, which delves deeply into what it means to lead.
Introducing Rosh Chodesh
What we’re doing as At The Well — combining women’s health science and Jewish spiritual thought and ritual — is quite innovative, but we didn’t pluck the idea from thin air. Gathering women regularly to generate spiritual connection to our bodies and build solidarity is a practice stretching far back in a variety of cultures and religions, including Judaism.
A little context: The Hebrew calendar has 12 months, each of which starts on the new moon. In Hebrew, that first day of the month is called Rosh Chodesh, which means “head of the month” (like Rosh Hashana, the Jewish new year, which means “head of the year.”) In the Book of Exodus, God’s first commandment to the Israelites is to mark time by the appearance of a new moon. That means that no matter who you are, and what body you have, marking the moon on Rosh Chodesh is an important Jewish practice.
Over time, Rosh Chodesh became a day set aside for women. According to Midrash — rabbinic storytelling and interpretation of events in the Torah — this designation was the result of a little run-in with a golden calf.…
According to Midrash, during the Exodus from Egypt, when Moses’ brother Aaron asked the women to contribute their jewelry to make the false idol of a golden calf, the women said no. As a reward for their faith, the Divine gave the Israelite women one day off every month, the first one. On this day, women are encouraged to study, gather, share, and witness each other in their joys, struggles, uncertainties, and all the zillion other shades of human experience.
For the Torah nerds among us: we offer more information and exact textual references in our one-pager on the origins of Rosh Chodesh.
Rediscovering Rosh Chodesh
Despite being ancient and endorsed by Rashi (the renowned French rabbi and sage from the early 1000’s, whose knack for rendering complex, spiritual thought in beautifully simple prose makes him a favorite for At The Well), Rosh Chodesh has gone somewhat underground.
We asked ourselves, why? One possibility is because besides the instruction to women to gather on the New Moon, there’s no guidance about how to practice this holiday. Rosh Chodesh comes with zero instructions.
Perhaps it is because Rosh Chodesh was a women’s holiday that in the past the traditions surrounded it weren’t formally documented of, only transmitted via “Oral Torah.” The absence of a paper trail means no recorded liturgy, prayers, rituals, special songs, or traditional foods. All of these practices may have, at one time, been passed by word of mouth, but they’ve mostly been lost.
Then, in 1986, Penina Adelman published Miriam’s Well: Rituals for Jewish Women Around the Year. In 1996, Susan Berrin published Celebrating the New Moon: A Rosh Chodesh Anthology, and in 2000, a Jewish women’s organization, Hadassah, released a book on Rosh Chodesh called Moonbeams. (See our Packet 7: References + Resources for these and other entries in the new canon).
Both in feminist and traditional Jewish communities, Rosh Chodesh groups started appearing, and for a minute it looked like Rosh Chodesh might make a comeback. But even after this brief resurgence, new resources remained scarce and awareness of Rosh Chodesh waned again.
Building excitement about a day when women are encouraged to gather is one of the biggest reasons At The Well exists. It’s also why we’ve created these materials to help you create your own Well Circle — we want to support you in bringing women together.
Dream for a moment with us. What would the fabric of the global Jewish community feel like if there were Well Circles everywhere? How would the world be different if we truly brought this monthly gathering back into the mainstream? What would the world look like if we helped inspire a global network of women’s circles?
How Jewish Is This Anyway?
Judaism is the soil in which At The Well was planted and grown. The ideas, practices, and learnings about wellness and wholeness we promote are inspired by and derived from the Jewish tradition. We focus on the experience of women and use Jewish wisdom as one of our anchors...
...but that doesn’t mean our articles, retreats, or Well Circles for that matter, are just for Jewish women only.
We believe that there are more women than those who identify as Jewish who can enjoy and benefit from what we’re up to. Well Circles are spaces to go deep with Jewish spiritual work. At the same time, we also believe Well Circles have the potential to bring the beauty, wisdom, intelligence, and integrity of the Jewish tradition to a wide variety of women, whether Jewish, Jewish, or just “Jewcurious.”
In short, do you have to be Jewish to be part of a Well Circle? No.
Are you welcome if you desire to join a sisterhood, learn about your body and soul, and step into leadership? Definitely.
Are Well Circles for Women Only?
As an organization, At The Well is open to all bodies, regardless of a person’s race, class, ability, religious affiliation, sexual orientation, gender identity or expression. Because the female body experience is central to our work, and much of it was created by those who identify as cis-women, you’ll see gender-specific words in our materials including “woman,” “women,” “she,” and “her.”
Nonetheless we aspire to bring a wide diversity of perspectives on body and gender identity into our offerings as we grow. To do that right, we’re expanding our network to the far corners of the Jewish spectrum. We invite you to reach out to us about creating content that will help us continue to be as inclusive as possible. Your voice matters.
So how does gender relate to the members of your Well Circle?
We believe it’s the sole choice of those starting a Circle to find the way to approach gender inclusion that feels safe, authentic, and comfortable. If you’re starting a Well Circle and want to talk it through, reach out to At The Well for help. We’ve always got you.
A Well Circle’s Purpose
Expectations are sneaky. Often we don’t even know they’re even there, until we find ourselves feeling disappointed that haven’t been met. To nip that possibility in the bud, and to model open, clear communication, here are a few words on the purpose of a Well Circle.
A Well Circle is...
A welcoming space for sharing openly and with love.
A compassionate space for challenging assumptions.
A sacred space for exploring the intersection of spirituality and women’s health.
A safe space for building trust and finding home.
An inspiring space to stand bravely, boldly, and with vulnerability in your story.
A space to witness others’ truths by listening from a place of deep, intentional listening rather than problem solving.
A Well Circle is not...
A space where one person’s needs take precedence. Though the group can certainly rally to support a member when she’s in need, the Circle is for everyone.
A group therapy session. Though it is a space for receiving and sharing support, your fellow Circle member are not present to provide treatment.
A last resort for maintaining stability. If someone’s mental wellness depends on the Circle alone, it’s time to find a therapist.
Well Circle 101
Coming up, we’ll dive into all kinds of thoughts about the steps to set up and care for a Well Circle.
But first, we want to share the What and Why of Well Circles. Think of these two pages like True North on the compass. If you ever start to feel lost, reread these.
You can also send these pages out to people you want to join your Circle. It’s a quick, simple, grounding explanation of what we’re doing, and why.
What’s a Well Circle?
A Well Cicle is a group of women who commit to meet monthly, employing a rotating leadership model. Well Circles are inspired by Rosh Chodesh, the ancient Jewish ritual in which women traditionally gather to mark the new moon / first day of each Hebrew month.
How is a Well Circle meeting different from a “girl’s night”?
Well Circle meetings are a little more structured and intentional that friend hangouts. At a Circle meeting, the facilitating member might lead a ritual, teach a song, introduce an activity, or offer a topic for focused group discussion or sharing. Because care goes into designing these meetups, they produce a special result: vulnerable, intimate sharing and connection and deepened self-awareness. You can find a whole array of ideas about how you might spend your time at a Well Circle gathering in our Moon Manuals.
What’s a Moon Manual?
Moon Manuals are publications timed and themed to each of the 12 Hebrew months in the year. The Moon Manuals include teachings on Judaism and women’s health, activities, recipes, and rituals you can use to facilitate meaningful, gatherings. You can find all the Moon Manuals on At The Well’s website, or sign up to receive them by email each month.
Who’s in charge of a Well Circle?
Well Circles operate according to a shared, rotating leadership, meaning a different woman from your Well Circle will lead each meeting. That way, all members feel a sense of ownership. To keep the responsibilities light, we recommend whomever is hosting the Circle meeting in her home differs from the person facilitating that month’s meeting. That means there are two people responsible for the evening, partners who can look to each other for support before, during, and after your Circle meets.
Why belong to a Well Circle?
To be witnessed in your joys, struggles, questions, and the rest.
To tap the power of female friendship.
To process your experiences in community.
To align your life to the Hebrew calendar, in community.
To explore important questions.
To cultivate deep links to ancient Jewish wisdom.
To practice regular self-care.
To connect — authentically and intimately — with other women.
To connect with yourself, body and spirit.
To make a meaningful life.
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