Marva Zohar is an activist, midwife, poet and founder of the Israeli NGO Ohela. She recently visited Atlanta as the first stop on the American leg of a five-month fundraising tour through Israel, North America and Europe.
Marva spoke of Ohela’s flagship project, the Land Where Women Heal. Marva spent a long weekend in Atlanta speaking at shuls and visiting the Metro Atlanta Community Mikvah.
I was lucky enough to meet Marva on her first day in Atlanta at Jewish Family & Career Services through its Shalom Bayit program. Through narration and poetry, she shared her experience of healing from the trauma of sexual assault.
Her deeply moving poetry was born from this trauma. Her journey after this trauma was made more difficult by the post-trauma treatment she received. Her story and presentation moved almost everyone present to tears.
I encourage you to watch her TED talk to get an idea of her strength of character.
Her story does not end with her attack at age 12. When Marva decided to seek help by calling the women’s crises line in Israel, she waited three full days before she reached a person. When she did, she was given some breathing exercises and was told that a support group might start in half a year.
The waiting lists for therapy stretched from one to three years, depending on where you lived. With no other options, she checked herself into a psychiatric hospital. While there, she heard others’ stories of harassment, assault and even rape while hospitalized.
These women not only were unable to overcome their assault, but also were traumatized again through the treatment and lack of treatment. Seven of these women ultimately committed suicide. From this pain, the seeds of Marva’s project took root.
Marva’s vision is to create a rehabilitative village in Israel for women recovering from trauma. A Land Where Women Heal is to be a sustainable community fostering women’s physical and spiritual wellness and wisdom.
This village is envisioned as an alternative to hospitalization. The women will live in the village for six to 12 months, at no cost, receiving full-time care. Practitioners trained to treat a range of relevant conditions, including substance abuse, eating disorders and suicidal thoughts, will live on campus.
Once the village is up and running, income-generating initiatives will include a retreat space, a spa, a natural birthing center, a mikvah and a school to educate medical professionals about the specific needs of female patients.
Marva arrived in Atlanta after one of the most successful crowdfunding campaigns in Israel’s history and right after her TEDx Oxford appearance. I spoke with her by phone after her Atlanta visit.
She said she enjoyed her time here and felt warmly embraced by the Jewish community.
She talked about the tribal aspect of taking care of women and making sure they have a place to heal and celebrate womanhood. In true tribal fashion, she was pleasantly surprised to learn that one of the social workers at the Shalom Bayit program is her cousin.
She commented on the strong sisterhood of women in Atlanta and was inspired by the social justice orientation of many of the people she met.
Her visit left me pondering next steps. In the wake of the #MeToo campaign, this seems like the perfect time for this project to grow. I hope you will take time to learn more about this initiative and give generously.