Svivah comes from the Hebrew word “sivuv” meaning circle, to surround, explained Arielle Mortkowitz. “And that is exactly what we intend to do.”
Mortkowitz is the founder of Svivah, a new Jewish women’s group that officially launched earlier this month. She wanted to create a place to “inspire, support, connect and celebrate Jewish womanhood,” so on Dec. 16, the group met in the meeting room of the Blair Apartments in Silver Spring for conversation and kosher snacks.
“Every time I see women come together in a space for them, there is something electric in that room,” said Mortkowitz, who has 15 years of experience as a volunteer mikvah attendant.
“I was just given this opportunity to share this space of spirituality and vulnerability with the women of my community,” she said.
In the mikvah, where women would reveal intimate details of their lives to a complete stranger, Mortkowitz realized that they needed a space of their own, to share their feelings and find support from one another.
“I want to help these women find each other,” she said.
At the beginning of the event, the participants were encouraged to go around the room and introduce themselves, with Hershey kisses offered as ice-breakers (one for themselves and the other for a stranger). But the main event of the evening was a speech by Dvorah Entin, a licensed therapist and the director of JFCS Ma’Oz, a mental health program in Philadelphia designed for the Orthodox community.
Her topic was “the pivot,” her phrase for the transitional moments in one’s life. These can range from happy changes such as having a baby or moving to a new job to sadder ones like the loss of a family member. Both kinds of changes, Entin explained, can bring the same kind of melancholy. She calls this the “raw space.” In the raw space, one is typically closed off from sharing their feelings.
The next step, the open space, is “a space where we can say, ‘I see you,’” Entin said. This allows a person to share their feelings, and feel supported before moving on to the final space, “the healing space,” which as its name suggests is where one finally begins to heal from the change and become “accepting” of their new reality.
When each space was discussed, the group was encouraged to share examples of times when they occupied one of these spaces with the person sitting next to them.
The room that they all had gathered in was declared a “safe space” at the start of the evening. Nothing said by any of the participants could leave the room without their express permission.
The women who came that evening were of different ages and denominations, from 20-somethings to grandmothers, from Orthodox to Reform. Svivah, Mortkowitz said, is for anyone who wants to be in a space for Jewish women, anyone looking to connect with Jewish women.
They came for different reasons; many had come because they knew Mortkowitz previously and wanted to support her and the endeavor of Svivah. Others had heard about the event through their synagogues or online. Rena Fruchter said, “Nothing could keep me away [tonight]. … This is a place where people can feel comfortable to
connect with each other.”
Janet Litwack, an artist, thought that many of the people who would be attending the event would also be creative types, and was pleasantly surprised to find out the group was much more than that.
“[During the meeting there were] women with whom I don’t have a personal connection and they’re compelled to come out for something like this,” Mortkowitz said. “That’s just further evidence that this is something we very much need.”