The Good Doctor: New Immigrant to Israel Sinks Her Teeth Into ATZUM Project for Survivors of Terror

Last year, Dr. Virigina Melmed, a new immigrant from Alabama, was looking for a way to use her skills as a dentist to give back to the community at large. Dr. Melmed originally came to Israel in 2010 to volunteer and provide free dental treatment to Israeli and Palestinian children whose families could not otherwise afford it.  Though she only intended to stay for a few months, she found herself feeling at home Israel and wanting to stay.

Dr. Melmed was able to gain citizenship because her deceased first husband was Jewish.  After making Aliyah she chose to go one step further and underwent the lengthy Orthodox conversion process.

“I might not practice in the way that they would have liked me to, but I do feel as though the conversion gave me a deep understanding of Judaism, and I feel comfortable navigating in a Jewish country and society,” said Dr. Melmed.

The Jewish value that Dr. Melmed holds most dear is giving of one’s self to the community and supporting others in their time of need.

“I had always volunteered in the States, and my life here didn’t feel quite right without a project that would allow me to contribute.”  

As Dr. Melmed was settling into her new Israeli life, she began searching for a project that would enable her to give back.  Soon she stumbled upon ATZUM’s Jewish Tooth Fairy Fund, a project that aims to provide dental care to survivors of terror attacks.  In Survivor of Terror families, young children who were wounded often require dental intervention as a result of their injuries; in other cases, death or injury of a parent leaves the family unable to afford even the most routine pediatric dental care.  The more Dr. Melmed learned about the project, the more she felt compelled to be a part of it.

“I knew almost right from the beginning that this was what I had been looking for.”

She immediately contacted ATZUM and set up an appointment to meet with Nachum, a 47 year-old father of three who was seriously injured in a 2003 bus bombing.  Prior to the bombing, Nachum owned and operated a vegetable shop and was able to provide for his family.  However, due to severe post-traumatic stress, Nachum is now unable to work, and his family is struggling financially.  His recovery has been a long and difficult process, and it has been significantly complicated by the fact that he is need of extensive dental care.

“He was in so much pain when I first met him,” explained Dr. Melmed. “We know from research that victims of terror are at much higher risk for dental problems. Of course, there is the traumatic injury to the mouth that could occur directly because of the attack.  But what most people don’t know is that medications for post-traumatic stress disorder and pain make people more prone to cavities and dental disease.  Moreover, stress hormones accelerate bone loss in the mouth, so people who go through extremely stressful periods are at higher risk for loosing their teeth. And survivors have many other problems to concern themselves with – their general health, work, and taking care of their family. It’s no surprise that survivors of terror are in need of some dental assistance.”

Though Dr. Melmed connected with and believed in the value of the Jewish Tooth Fairy Fund from the beginning, she met with some skepticism from others.

“People said to me, ‘Everyone goes through hard times, why should he get free care and not the next person?’ But I feel that everyone deserves a shot at a normal life, and that’s what this treatment gives to people – a shot at confidence and independence, despite all they’ve been through.”

She decided to offer her services to the Jewish Tooth Fairy Fund, and in the end even won over some of her critics.

With Nachum’s treatment almost complete, Dr. Melmed continues to look for additional ways to give back to her new community.

“I would be thrilled to continue to work the Jewish Tooth Fairy Fund and make sure that other survivors of terror have access to the care that they need and deserve.” 

The Painful Silence: Terrorism’s Forgotten Victims

The Times of Israel

December 18, 2012

By Gila Berdichev

In September, US Ambassador to Libya Chris Stevens and three other Americans were killed by terrorists who stormed the US Embassy. Just a few weeks later, a car bomb killed Lebanese security chief Wissam al-Hassan. And last month, a serious Hamas offensive sent rockets into Israeli cities previously thought invulnerable, killing five and wounding 70 private citizens. Now, our brothers and sisters in the United States are reeling from a mass execution at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, an act of extreme violence that left 26 dead, including 20 young children.

Unfortunately, this latest surge of violence circumventing the globe is nothing new.Over the last year, I have heard stories about many other attacks, bombings and grisly murders around the world – premeditated acts of terror as well as impulsive and senseless acts of violence.

When terror acts occur in Israel, we pray that there are no fatalities. When one man is killed, it is as though the whole country has a lost a father, brother, husband or friend. When one young girl dies, all of Israel mourns the death of their little girl. In the hours after an attack, we focus on the death toll. And if there are no fatalities, we breathe a deep sigh of relief and go about our day. [Read more…]

Running the Marine Corps Marathon for ATZUM

On October 28, over 23,000 runners from across North America gathered in Arlington, VA for the 37th Annual Marine Corps Marathon. Among them was Daniel Schwartz, a man on a mission.  Schwartz, a native of Silver Spring, MD, decided to run the marathon in a bid to raise money for ATZUM. 

Though the marathon covers a grueling stretch of 26.2 miles (from Arlington, VA then winding through the streets of Washington,DC), the thought of quitting never even crossed his mind.  He explained, “Completing a marathon is far easier when the runner realizes that his task has purpose beyond race day.  ATZUM’s four core projects improve Israeli society and the organization’s work is truly inspirational.”  Of course it also doesn’t hurt to have a cheering section, and his wife Shira and daughters Noa and Keren supported him by wearing t-shirts bearing his picture and the inspirational phrase, ‘chazak, chazak, v’nitzchazek.’ [Read more…]

TFHT Presents: Professor Gail Dines at Hebrew University

TFHT is pleased to announce that on December 19, Professor Gail Dines will present a lecture entitled “How Porn Creates the John: Porn, Trafficking and the Social Construction of Masculinity” at Hebrew University on Mount Scopus. The lecture will take place in The Faculty of Social Sciences Building room 3202 beginning at 2:30 PM. The Task Force on Human Trafficking and The Lafer Center for Women and Gender Studies are hosting the event.

Professor Dines is Professor of Sociology and Women Studies at Wheelock College in Boston, MA. An internationally acclaimed speaker, she is the author of numerous articles and books, including her most recent work Pornland: How Porn has Hijacked our Sexuality.

For more information, please contact Rebecca.

Prostitution in Israel: Myth vs reality

Jerusalem Post

December 3, 2012

By Rebecca Hughes

For too long, the conversation surrounding prostitution has been based on a myth. While the damage that stems from inaccurate depictions of prostitution in popular culture is significant, it is nothing compared to the damage created by misinformed policymakers and law enforcement officials.

There is a dangerous gap between the glamorous depiction of prostitution in pop-culture and the reality that prostituted women and minors are forced to contend with on a daily basis.

When society’s decision makers ascribe to these myths and are oblivious to the suffering of prostituted people, real women and children fall into the abyss and are all too often unable to climb back out. [Read more…]

How ATZUM Assists Survivors of Terror: A Case Study

“Menachem” is a 13 year-old boy from Ashkelon. Just over four years ago, he suffered acute shock after a Grad missile fell near his school.  Soon after, Menachem began to develop symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).  In addition to deterioration in his daily functioning, Menachem began to have nightmares and became anxious and introverted.  His only regular interactions were with his parents, and he attempted to avoid social situations entirely.

Menachem also found it difficult to concentrate in school, and his grades began to falter.  But he realized how important his education would be in the future and made the conscious decision to overcome these hurdles and persevere.  The only problem was that to do so, he would need a great deal of guided personal tutoring and support in individual learning tasks.  This kind of assistance would cost a great deal money – money his family simply did not have.

Last month, ATZUM stepped in and funded Menachem’s private tutoring.  Menachem’s family can now rest easy knowing that he is being provided with the skills he needs to grow academically.  With any luck, his academic success will give him the confidence to reunite with the outside.

To learn more about ATZUM’s Roberts Project for Survivors of Terror, please click here.

Y&R Israel Takes Home 2012 Non-Profit Advertising Trophy For ATZUM’s “Women To Go” Campaign

ATZUM is proud to announce that collaborator Y&R Israel was awarded the 2012 Effie Award for Excellence in Non-Profit Advertising earlier this month for developing the ‘Women To Go’ awareness campaign for the Task Force on Human Trafficking (TFHT), a project of ATZUM and the law firm Kabiri-Nevo-Keidar.

The ongoing campaign, which seeks to raise public awareness about sex trafficking and prostitution in Israel by exposing these corruptions of human dignity in a public space, features models posing in a storefront as “merchandise” complete with price tags and product information.  Volunteers stand outside to inform startled passersby how they can participate in the campaign against sex trafficking. [Read more…]

Challenging the Myths Surrounding Prostitution

On Tuesday, September 11, the Task Force on Human Trafficking (TFHT) brought Israeli journalists to Saleet, a Tel Aviv shelter for prostituted women.  The meeting’s aim was to engage the press in a conversation about how prostitution and sex trafficking are described in the media.  Journalists have much influence shaping the conversation surrounding this form of modern slavery, as well as society’s response to it. 

“We have always spoken about prostitution,” said Neama Rivlin Zeevi, the director of Saleet.  “The question is: How have we spoken about it?”

Pop culture and the media often portray prostitution as a glamorous, wealth-producing job.  The 1990 movie Pretty Woman promoted the myth that prostitution was a way to get not only a designer wardrobe but a handsome and loving partner as well.  Celebrating the sexual servitude that is prostitution has become an accepted staple of our culture.  “Pimp and Ho” parties are regularly hosted on college campuses and pole-dancing classes are offered at gyms.  Hit TV shows such as Cathouse and The Secret Diary of a Call Girl, portray prostituted women as sexually liberated people choosing to work in prostitution.  Unfortunately, this cultural perception has made its way into Israel’s media as well.  New TV shows such as Allenby, a series about a strip club in Tel Aviv, promote the myth that stripping is legitimate work for women and harmless fun for men.

The media’s insistence on this myth does not change the harsh realities of the flesh trade.

“Most women who enter prostitution in Israel aren’t women, but young teenage girls,” said one of Saleet’s social workers.  “They are 14 year-old girls who come from backgrounds of physical and sexual abuse.” 

Journalists from Ynet, Mako, and other leading figures in Israel’s media were given the opportunity to hear testimony from several women trapped in the world of prostitution.  Advocates from TFHT and other organizations spoke of the degradation and cruelty of the flesh trade, and the benefits of passing legislation in Israel based on the Nordic Model.  The accounts of both the women and the advocates highlighted for the attendees the gap between society’s perception of prostitution and its reality.

“We feel the encounter was a success,” said Gili Varon, director of TFHT. “We hope that this will be the first of several meetings with journalists to discuss the dark realities of prostitution.”

The TFHT is hopeful this marks the beginning of a larger conversation about prostitution and sex trafficking in Israel based on facts rather than dangerous myths.

Jerusalem’s Health and Community Service Center Partners with ATZUM to Aid Survivors of Terror

ATZUM is pleased to announce its new partnership with Jerusalem’s Health and Community Service Center (HCS) on its ‘Jewish Tooth Fairy Fund’ Project. The project seeks to provide a full range of dental services to Israeli survivors of terror attacks who can’t afford the treatments and have no access to dental insurance.  HCS is a not-for-profit project providing first-rate dental treatment to low-income populations in Israel since 1983. 

To join ATZUM and HCS in this important effort please click here.

Modern Slavery in Israel: It’s All Politics

The Algemeiner

August 19, 2012

By Rebecca Hughes

Several days ago, I awoke to the sound of my phone ringing off the hook.  A very annoyed man was on the line. “I’m calling from the Knesset,” he said. “You’ve been sending us letters.” His tone was accusatory, but I was guilty as charged.

Championing ATZUM’s “Project 119,” 127 volunteers – myself included – have been sending numerous e-mails to the Members of Knesset.  Over the last five months, we have sent 1,904 e-mails urging MKs to pass MK Orit Zuaretz’s proposed legislation to criminalize the purchase of sexual services.

Though he was clearly less than happy to be talking to me, I was pleased to be speaking with him.  Clearly, I thought, this was someone who realized that combating sex trafficking and prostitution belongs near the top of our government’s ‘To Do’ list, seeing as there are thousands of prostituted individuals in Israel, many of whom are children. Although procuring is illegal in Israel, 90% of these women and children are owned by others and experience violence at the hands of their pimps or their clients. [Read more…]