On Friday morning outside Arizmendi Bakery, Niki Berkowitz is wearing a bright pink T-shirt listing her different identities among different communities, each firmly defined with a period:
“Tati, that’s what my godchildren call me,” Berkowitz explains, while sipping coffee and eating a pastry, “and many other, like, pseudo-nieces and -nephews.”
Her friend Ian made the shirt just for her, being the “thoughtful menschy guy” that he is.
Playa Pussy, she says, is her Burning Man crew, and another group of her friends all call each other Honey. She and one of her best friends call each other Badger.
“She-wolf is kind of this old crew, with a different group of women who have come together. And now we’re the she-wolves,” Berkowitz says. “And then Jewitch — I am Jewish and also spiritual … ”
Berkowitz has been in a women’s witch circle for more than a decade with three other women.
“For about 10 years, we’ve met every month,” Berkowitz says. “We would come together and do some rituals and sharing and different kinds of spiritual practices. Meditation, did a couple retreats together.”
Berkowitz ponders tips for people new to meditation. “So you’re not fighting against them, and you’re seeing the thought, like a passing cloud.”
She sees it this way: “I think that’s a misnomer about meditation. It’s not about clearing the thoughts. It’s really about working with the thoughts.”
Berkowitz is relatively new to meditation — she and her close friend just finished a two-year training together and became instructors. It’s just one of her many activities with various communities she’s cultivated in the past 22 years of living here — groups that have made it onto her T-shirt.
Before she got into meditation, Berkowitz was a therapist, working for 15 years in community mental health for youth and families, mostly in Bayview Hunters Point. Later, she served on the board of Hunters Point Family, a supportive services agency working with youth and in workforce development.
“People are fascinating,” Berkowitz says. Her aim in working on “the front lines,” she says, was to try to help break cycles, whether those stem from family or school, or social systems like poverty and racism. She saw firsthand the multi-generational traumas, and how systemic hierarchies could hold people back.
After more than a decade in that sphere, Berkowitz said she is a little burned out. Nowadays, she does virtual individual therapy, taking a break from the intensity of her longtime job.
“I’ll get back to it in a way,” she says. “I just, I needed a break from it. It was a good, long run.”
But, as always, she takes care of those around her. When she finishes her morning coffee, she will visit her godchildren, 11 and 13, the children of one of the women in her witch circle. They’re going camping for a week, and Berkowitz points to the loaves of seeded bread poking out of her bag. “I just got some goodies for them.”