Every month, a group of women gets together in Tel Aviv and howls – yes, howls – at the Full Moon. Even if passersby sometimes stop to watch and listen, the women, who come from all over the world, howl as loudly as they can under the Moon.
“We’re not rebellious,” said Ashley Szlachta, 33, formerly of Philadelphia, who started the Full Moon Women’s Circle in 2015 and has been leading it ever since. “But it’s good practice to not care what others think.” The inspiration for the Full Moon Women’s Circle came to Szlachta five years ago, when she read a post by a woman on the Secret Tel Aviv Facebook page who was interested in a women’s circle but couldn’t find anyone to lead it. Szlachta volunteered. The only problem was she had no idea how to go about it.
“I am a yoga and meditation teacher but I had to look up what to do on Google,” admitted Szlachta during a recent telephone interview.
Eight women came to that first circle and it’s been going ever since. Szlachta said the most important thing about the circle is consistency. Even if only two women come to participate, she still holds the ceremony.
The circle is about support, ritual, spirituality and empowerment, explained Georgia Barnett, 29, an immigrant from Leeds, England, who moved to Israel in 2016.
“When I arrived in Israel, it got a bit lonely and I wanted to find community,” Barnett said. The circle’s Facebook group, The Goddess Temple, now has more than 1,000 members.
What also makes the group interesting, she said, is that women encourage and inspire one another. Barnett attended a private girls’ school in England where “girls all competed with one another.” She said that women don’t often see their own strengths but the women in the group help uncover them.
Szlachta added that the circle has helped her decrease “gossip, judgment and comparison,” and reach a place of acceptance. Women “don’t have to look like models,” she said. “We’re all beautiful, with all our shapes, sizes and quirks.” On the night of the Full Moon (or the day before or after), the women join together for an evening of guided meditation, singing and dancing. They share what they are struggling with, or would like to change, or what their intentions are for the following month. Szlachta stresses honesty.
“A woman who looks so powerful can also be struggling,” she said. By meeting other women and sharing their stories, “women can stand up and see ourselves and where we are on the planet.” JULIANA PEÑA, 28, from Bogota, Colombia, has attended the circle whenever she can since she immigrated to Israel in 2017. What she appreciates is the ceremony in which the women drink a special cocoa drink, something that people might find amusing since in Colombia, people drink cocoa for breakfast every day.
“It’s beautiful to see that when we give meaning to something ordinary, it becomes holy and special,” Peña said.
The special cocoa drink that the women use in the ritual is thicker than what people drink in Colombia. This is vegan-friendly, without sugar but with spices. (Barnett, from England, has become the official cocoa drink-preparer for the circle.) Peña likened it to making kiddush with wine or grape juice on Friday night.
In addition to the cocoa ritual, the group also practices what Szlachta calls “active listening,” which means simply listening to another woman’s words and not “thinking how to fix her.” The other women hear a woman, and send her love, followed by the words, “Ah-ho,” or “Ah-hey-ya,” which are Native American words that mean, “I acknowledge that you have spoken.” By hearing someone speak, said Szlachta, the group guides women to find “their own truth.” By voicing what they are going through, women feel empowered to explore what they need, whether it’s related to a job, a living situation or a partner.
The spoken language might be English but it’s also “the language of the heart and soul,” Szlachta said. That brings the women to the last part of the ceremony, in which the women stand together and howl.
“It’s very primal,” she said. “It’s in our DNA. We join our voices to remember our wild nature.”
Peña talks about the circle as part of her own spiritual journey. When she was growing up, she saw her grandmother light candles on Friday night and never mixing meat with cheese, but her grandmother did not understand why. Her father began exploring Judaism, and Peña learned that her family was one of many Marranos in Columbia, or secret Jews, who kept a small spark of Judaism alive in a Catholic country.
“Since I was six or seven, when I first saw a Hebrew text, it spoke to my soul,” said Peña, who now makes her home in Jaffa, works for a humanitarian aid organization and says she’s very happy.
“If I’m having a rough time,” Peña said, “I go to the Full Moon Women’s Circle and I know they’ll understand and give me positivity.”