Reaching Across an Ocean to Help Survivors of Terror

In our Care: The recent increase in terror on Israel’s streets brings a return of familiar fear and dread, triggering a collective trauma experienced with particular force by those whose lives were previously upended in its wake. Here is the story of the B family, in our care for many years, and the outreach provided by project coordinator, social worker, Tamar Hatzir.  

In 2008, a katyusha rocket landed in front of then 8-year-old Koby directly outside his family’s modest home in the south of Israel. Koby has an older sister, Orit (today, 19) and a younger brother, Gabrielle (today, 13).  Following the attack, Koby changed from a friendly child with a sense of humor to a socially introverted, overweight teen. He is considerably dependent on his mother, during the day, and on his father, with whom he sleeps. Koby suffers from nightmares, nighttime incontinence, and debilitating anxiety, common complications for those diagnosed with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). Koby is afraid to walk alone or travel by public transportation; his mother must either drive or escort him by taxi to school. Last year, after a long struggle with the educational authorities, his mother was able to arrange for Koby to go to a new school better able to serve his special needs. The family is still fragile and needs the help provided by Tamar, who notes:

“The Roberta Project helps the family on a number of fronts: first, I am assisting Koby’s parents to better respond to his PTSD while remaining available to deal with the needs of his siblings, and to maintain their own marital relationship which had deteriorated considerably over the years. Second, I am working one-on-one to help empower his mother to take better care of her health problems and return to the work force. Also, after working with him for two years, I am pleased Koby’s situation is improving, as he is now willing to play in the street with other children. Third, we have provided the family with food vouchers during the holidays to make life a bit easier.”


Emma Fishbein

Thanks to Emma – From “Dawn to Healing”:  Meet Emma Fishbein, the Chicago teen who recently became a Bat Mitzvah. To mark the occasion, she asked her friends and family not for presents, but to help her raise money for ATZUM’s Roberta Project by sponsoring her in an 18-mile swim.  Emma set as her target $2,500 and has to date raised over $4,000! The funds will help people like Efrat (“To be Healed” in Hebrew), a girl who grew up with the name Shachar (“Dawn” in Hebrew) who was injured in a terror attack a decade ago. Read about Emma’s successful campaign sponsored by Root Funding  and Efrat’s story of how and why she changed her name and the healing that is still ongoing. Emma’s generosity is not surprising; she comes from a caring and munificent family that has helped raise funds in support of the Roberta Project for the last several years.  To Emma and her family – Kol Hakavod, (“All of the respect!”). May you be an example for others.

Recognizing Righteous Rescuers in Israel and Poland

Channeling critical practical and human resources to “Righteous Rescuers (Hasiday Umot Olam) living in Israel who risked their lives to save Jews during the Shoah.

This population is aging and shrinking. Though there are only nine family units currently living in Israel, all are dear to us. Beyond visiting them regularly in their homes – of profound value to them – ATZUM serves as an advocate to ensure that other entities tasked with the responsibility to respond to the population’s practical needs do so, and step in when there is no other resource.  


Photo; Tsila Lavi-Shalom, Coordinator of ATZUM’S Righteous Among the Nations Project, with program recipient.

Beyond this, we are now involved in a volunteer effort to coordinate a holiday and birthday card project from Israeli and gap-year students to Righteous Rescuers (Hasiday Umot Olam) in Poland.  Volunteers, with logistic support from ATZUM, will encourage schools and youth movements in Israel and abroad to join this effort. Their students will learn about the Righteous Rescuers’ heroism and then prepare cards to be distributed to them on their birthdays and holidays.  This initiative will be undertaken in conjunction with Polin – the Museum of the History of Polish Jews in Warsaw. Polin is in touch with 300 Polish citizens who rescued Jews during the Shoah.

TAKUM Currently Facilitating Three Betei Midrash

Beit Midrash TAKUMEngaging community professionals and grassroots volunteers in Israel and abroad through a nine-month, international social justice program integrating in-depth Jewish learning with activism.

TAKUM is a partnership with Yeshivat Talpiot, an egalitarian yeshiva committed to facilitating critical, open engagement with Jewish text and social crisis as a means of influencing activism. TAKUM, hosted at the Conservative Yeshiva in Jerusalem and Tel Aviv University, seeks to bring Torah study to the streets in ways that urge action on behalf of others in need. This year, the project’s third, study and public service are focused on aiding Israel’s refugees and asylum seekers, as well as victims of prostitution and human trafficking.

This spring brings new energy to Beit Midrash TAKUM with the launch of two new cohorts: one in Jerusalem for established, experienced young professionals already involved in fields of social change, and the other for young students from Tel-Aviv University.

The Jerusalem cohort of 13 Fellows from diverse religious and cultural backgrounds work as teachers, social workers and community organizers. Some have previous experience in Beit Midrash learning.

The Tel-Aviv cohort of eight Fellows from Tel-Aviv University is quite different. All come to the Beit Midrash without experience with Jewish text study. All Fellows in this cohort volunteer in three Tel- Aviv NGOs working with refugees and asylum seekers, including:

Simultaneously, TAKUM’s first Jerusalem cohort of religiously diverse university students and recent graduates with minimal activist experience began in October 2015. Fellows in this cohort (as in the Tel- Aviv group) receive a modest stipend for their participation; undertake serious volunteer roles in lieu of tuition; and assist with refugee relief efforts and as part of ATZUM’s Task Force on Human Trafficking and Prostitution. This cohort is currently deeply involved in its volunteer work.

In March TFHT Fellows collaborated with student activist groups to organize a Hebrew University hosted public debate on prostitution in Israel society. Panelists included MK Shuli Mualem from Bayit Yehudi, a religious Zionist political party, and three speakers from NGOs dedicated to stopping prostitution. The event enabled recruitment of new Project 119 activists. (Project 119 is TFHT’s weekly campaign pairing individual MKs and Government Ministers with volunteers urging passage of Nordic Model legislation. The time commitment is minimal; the campaign’s impact is considerable.) The panel event effectively demonstrated to the TAKUM Fellows who organized the evening how they might impact public discourse.

Photo:  Avi Dabush, a community organizer and activist, addresses two TAKUM cohorts at the Conservative Yeshiva in Jerusalem in March 2016.

Photo: Avi Dabush, a community organizer and activist, addresses two TAKUM cohorts at the Conservative Yeshiva in Jerusalem in March 2016.

TFHT: Progress Towards Passage

It is a difficult process to move the Knesset and Israel’s political machines to recognize the urgent need to pass Nordic Model legislation, but THFT has made much progress. Our recently drafted legislation, more comprehensive than previous, leaner versions, has garnered wide support across party lines, only to be frustrated twice by the disbandment of the Knesset and new elections. After recent months of arduous meetings with MKs Shuli Moalem-Refaeli (Habayit Hayehudi) and Zehava Galon (Meretz) and others, we have now reconstituted and expanded that base of support in advance of the pending re-submission of the legislation.

We are cautiously optimistic: the bill’s cross-party sponsors are adamant in seeking the coalition Government’s approval; public awareness of the evils of trafficking and the abuses of prostitution has grown exponentially; and high-profile instances of the suffering and suicide of prostituted women have attracted much media coverage, as have the instances of the sexual abuse of women by public figures. And, as this report is being prepared, it was announced that Minister of Justice Ayelet Shaked called for the formation of a special committee to examine the possibility of making the purchase of prostitution a criminal offence.

Despite the forward motion, we remain aware of very resistant opposition to such legislation: an annual 1.2 billion NIS enterprise has well-connected attorneys; the Ministry of Justice is hesitant to add another offence to the penal code; and the constant distractions of terror attacks, Iranian threats, and the Government’s fear-mongering produce a climate less inclined to see the priority of at-risk citizens’ concerns.

Countering these challenges is the support and inspiration which comes from our donors, pro bono partners, and volunteers who join us in insisting on the betterment of the status of women and their well-being. Together our voices bellow in protest of the daily rape of thousands of prostituted and trafficked women and girls on our streets.

TFHT: Public Discourse

This year, ATZUM is increasing its reach by joining the human resources connected to two of its initiatives, TFHT and Beit Midrash TAKUM. The former, as noted, is focused on passing legislation based on the Nordic Model; the latter is a nine-month, international social justice program integrating in-depth, Jewish learning with activism.

On March 22, 2016, three TAKUM volunteers – two law students and one social work student – collaborated with two different Hebrew University student union groups to organize a panel event attended by 50 people. The event was chaired by Adv. Michal Leibel, TFHT Director. Speakers included Tali Koral, CEO of Machon Todaa (Awareness Center), who spoke about the need to expose the actions and responsibilities of the customer in the abuse and demoralization of girls and women; and Re’ut Guy, Director of Youth in Distress at Elem, who focused on teen prostitution.


Photo: TFHT-sponsored panel discussion at Hebrew University, March 2016.

The keynote speaker was MK Shuli Moalem who addressed the moral imperative for Israel society to adopt binding legislation to render prostitution and the commoditization of women unacceptable. She related to data from a multi-year study of prostitution in Israel presented to the Knesset the same day. As reported in “Haaretz” on March 6, “The first-ever government survey into prostitution in Israel found…annual payments to sex workers amounted to an estimated 1.2 billion shekels ($308.2 million) in 2014. The survey by the [Social Affairs and Public Security Ministries] found there were between 11,420 and 12,730 prostitutes in Israel that year, 95 percent of them female. The data…showed that each sex worker had approximately 660 clients a year [and] as many as 1,260 minors were employed as prostitutes or at risk of [entering] prostitution.”

MK Moalem praised the TFHT event, emphasizing the importance of public discourse on a subject too rarely discussed. Indeed, before the event, most people admitted to being unaware that prostitution is legal in Israel. Most are now unwilling to allow it to continue under society’s radar.

TFHT: International Update

In 1999, Sweden introduced groundbreaking law, the first country to criminalize the john rather than punish the prostitute. Gunilla Ekberg, the Swedish government’s lead official on prostitution, described the model as looking at prostitution as a form of male sexual violence, noting her country’s law focuses “…on the root cause, the recognition that without men’s demand for and use of women and girls for sexual exploitation, the global prostitution industry would not…flourish and expand.”

Other countries have since adopted that Nordic Model: Norway in 2008, Iceland in 2009, Canada in 2014 and Northern Ireland in 2015, not long after the European parliament approved a resolution calling for the law to be adopted throughout the continent. In April 2016, the French Parliament also adopted such legislation. TFHT lauds France’s government for stepping up and doing the right thing, yet another country reinforcing the message that societies need to reach out to prostituted people as victims and not treat them as social pariahs.


TFHT: Another Step Forward: Will Israel Follow France?

Earlier this month, France became the fifth country, after Sweden, Norway, Iceland and Britain, to pass law based on the Nordic Model, the international standard designed to criminalize the purchase of sexual services and protect the prostituted person, nearly always a girl or woman forced into sexual servitude. Countries that have adopted the Nordic Model have seen a considerable reduction in prostitution.

Urging passage of such legislation in Israel has been one of the primary functions of ATZUM’s Task Force on Human Trafficking and Prostitution (TFHT). TFHT lauds France’s government for stepping up and doing the right thing, yet another country reinforcing the message that societies must see prostituted people as victims, not as social pariahs.

As hoped, this move motivated Minister of Justice Ayelet Shaked, at the urging of MKs Shuli Moalem-Refaeli (Habayit Hayehudi) and Zehava Galon (Meretz), to call for the formation of a committee to examine the possibility of making the purchase of prostitution a criminal offence. The bill currently under consideration, authored by TFHT Director, Adv. Michal Leibel, is the most comprehensive piece of legislation proposed to date, outlining annual costs for support services, enforcement, and income to be derived from fines from johns.  You can read more HERE about the formation of the committee.

Though there is a still a long way to go, this is good news.

What can you do?

If you are not already a P119 volunteer, sign up HERE today to become an online activist in urging Israel’s Knesset members to support Nordic Model legislation in Israel.

If you are already a Project 119 volunteer, thank you. Please remember to complete your assignment. This is a fast moving campaign requiring we all do our part.

As we ready ourselves for Hag Pesah, let us also pledge to rid society of the plague of prostitution and abuse of those still in bondage

You can read more about the French law HERE and HERE.

TFHT and Ofek Nashi

On a daily basis, Task Force on Human Trafficking and Prostitution (TFHT) Director Michal Leibel can be found in the halls of the Knesset and offices of government ministers and Members of Knesset in an effort to secure cross-party support of TFHT authored Nordic Model legislation. Last August, she added one more task to her already busy agenda. For four months Michal made a weekly four-hour round-trip bus ride between Jerusalem and Haifa to facilitate an unusual discussion group in collaboration with Ofek Nashi (Women’s Horizons), a program that provides support and shelter for women who have left, or are in the process of escaping prostitution. An initiative of the Municipality of Haifa and the Ministry of Social Affairs and Social Services, Ofek Nashi seeks to rebuild the lives of women who, as a result of being prostituted, have suffered substance abuse; mental, sexual, and physical violence; and family, health and legal problems. Over the course of one year, participants receive individual counseling, take part in group therapy, undergo job training, and meet women leaders in an effort to prepare themselves for independent life off the streets.

The discussion group formed in August 2015 at the request of Ofek Nashi participants who were curious about the Nordic Model and TFHT’s legal process to protect prostituted people. A core group of five women participated in each session and another five contributed as they were able.

Many of the sessions centered on the challenges and progress in the cause of shifting public opinion about prostitution and the role of the media in such effort. Of particular note was a session with Limor Pinhasov, a representative of Ta Ha’Itonayot (Israel’s “Chamber of Women Journalists”), a collective formed in 2012 to advance the representation and scope of women in the media, perhaps best known for its campaign to tackle sexual discrimination and harassment of women journalists.

Understandably, most survivors of prostitution work hard to protect their privacy and that of their families, rather than revealing their history providing sexual services. Most simply want to disappear into society and leave their past behind. However, among the participants was one exceptionally brave woman, Vika, who was willing to be interviewed and photographed without concealment on a special Channel Two news story. The Hebrew broadcast can be found here. (TFHT is in the process of having English subtitles added.) In addition to appearing within the media, Vika attends discussions about prostitution with the Knesset’s Committee on the Status of Women and Gender Equality and speaks to groups about her personal experiences and the abusive reality of prostitution.

TFHT hopes to continue facilitating such groups with the goal of empowering survivors of prostitution to help advocate for social legislative change vis-à-vis prostitution. Such involvement carries a potent message to the public and to decision makers. At present, there is no organization of survivors who work openly to change the landscape and reality of prostitution in Israel. SPACE, (Survivors of Prostitution-Abuse Calling for Enlightenment), an international organization was formed in 2012 as a coalition of women survivors of prostitution from France, Denmark, Germany, Ireland, Canada, the US and the UK , who chose to forgo their anonymity for the purpose of speaking out against prostitution in the public arena. Its purpose is to give voice to women who have survived the abusive reality of prostitution. We hope Israel may one day soon follow suit.

The Task Force on Human Trafficking and Prostitution (TFHT), an initiative of Israel NGO, ATZUM-Justice Works, aims to eradicate human trafficking across and within Israel’s borders and ensure passage of Nordic Model legislation to criminalize the purchase of sexual services and protect the prostituted person, nearly always a girl or woman coerced into sexual servitude. 

TAKUM – A Jewish Service Learning Program

TAKUM (Tikkun u’Mishpat/Restoring Justice) is an international service learning initiative linking Jewish learning with social activism by facilitating open discussion of Jewish text and humanitarian crisis.  TAKUM’s goal is to bring Jewish study to the streets in ways that urge thoughtful action on behalf of vulnerable others. TAKUM Fellows, in addition to learning, provide weekly volunteer hours to combat the declining respect for human rights Israel society has witnessed for far too long. 

This year, TAKUM’s third, 26 Jerusalem TAKUM Fellows are focusing their learning and service on aiding Israel’s refugees and asylum seekers and victims of prostitution and human trafficking, urgent concerns requiring our collective action. Cohort I includes university students and recent graduates with minimal activist experience.  Cohort II includes more established, experienced young professionals deeply involved in fields of social change. An additional 20 Fellows participating in a London-based, TAKUM-initiated cohort will focus on related human rights issues. 

Below are the reflections of two current Fellows learning and volunteering in Jerusalem:

Weekly learning with my TAKUM colleagues is like finding sane and safe haven — critical time to think deeply in the midst of life’s craziness.  Most of us are busy students and young activists, pre-occupied with our own lives. Coming to the beit midrash strengthens and inspires us toward action through weekly vibrant and open-hearted discussions.

In our first unit we focused on the subject of aniyei irkha, the poor within our midst. Delving into Biblical and Talmudic texts, and learning from contemporary thinkers, we discussed who is the ani/  the impoverished, and how we as a community relate to them. We studied Emmanuel Levinas (a 20th-century French Jewish philosopher who suggests ethics and respect for the other are “the first philosophy”); considered the concept and reality of Jerusalem as sacred and earthly city; and met with seasoned and visionary social activists.

We just finished a second unit which focuses on gender issues, particularly those which relate to women, virginity, prostitution and rape. In addition to dissecting traditional Jewish teachings, we studied modern feminist theory and considered data regarding the trafficking of women into and within Israel. We debated the role and limits of the judicial system in combating sexual assault versus the impact of education and educators on these issues.

Why is TAKUM learning important to my studies and humanity? The beit midrash consists of an intimate cohort of diverse and creative people willing to engage in brave, value-based conversations regarding Jewish culture and tradition, deeply relevant for our times.

Frima works and volunteers in Israel’s third sector

TAKUM: Tikun and Mishpat, repairing and securing justice – These are constructs and realities which resonate deeply. Our TAKUM cohort aspires to identify messages regarding justice and just action embedded in Jewish tradition and classical texts. We are committed individually and as a collective to revive their different meanings. As a law student at the Hebrew University, I feel my studies would be incomplete had I not joined the TAKUM community. The learning invites each of us to contribute to group discussions which consider the relevance of ancient texts to our lives.

However, there are difficult moments. The Torah does not only discuss social justice and aiding the poor. Many times, the text speaks to us in a language we do not want to hear; it proposes notions and values we do not want to accept. But actually, those are the moments of discomfort that create opportunities to really get to the heart of the matter.

Learning is not enough, and in TAKUM we act and volunteer. I chose to devote my time giving legal aid to refugees who are summoned to Holot (a forced detention facility). Here, as in the beit midrash, I hear the voices of our traditions: “And a stranger you shall not oppress, for you know the heart of a stranger, seeing you were strangers in the land of Egypt.” (Exodus 23, 9)

Evyatar studies law and cognitive science at Hebrew University.

TAKUM is a joint initiative of ATZUM – Justice Works and Yeshivat Talpiot. It is funded by the Kathryn Ames Foundation, Elizabeth Scheuer, Peter Joseph and other donors wishing to remain anonymous. To support TAKUM, please CLICK.



Sex is not a Commodity, Women are not Objects

Photo: Eliav Lilti לילטי אליאב

Photo: Eliav Lilti לילטי אליאב

A few weeks ago we wrote about the suicide of “Jessica” (previously referred to as G.) a young woman, prostituted for 15 years, who hanged herself at 98 HaYarkon Street brothel in Tel-Aviv rather than endure one more night’s repeated rapes.  

Immediately following this tragedy, THFT posted public notice of her death, as is customary following the loss of a loved one; co-authored a letter to government and municipal authorities calling for immediate closure of the brothel; and was at the helm of organizing a memorial event attended by 900 people in front of the brothel.

Following that gathering, we sensed public opinion was shifting, that people were beginning to understand the prostituted woman as a target and the john as a perpetrator of paid rape. Jessica’s life and death brought to the forefront the widely held, convenient and long-disproved myth of prostitution as a chosen profession. People now better recognize prostitution is most often systematized, sanctioned abuse, exploitation and rape. 

Last week, an urgent petition was issued to the Tel-Aviv Magistrate’s Court, requesting participation as Friends of the Court (Amicus Curiae) in the Attorney General’s proceedings requesting closurer of the brothel. Member organizations of the TFHT facilitated Coalitzia l’ Ma’avak Bznut (Coalition for the Fight Against Prostitution) as well as the following Members of Knesset (MKs) joined the petition:

  1. MK Rachel Azaria (Kulanu)
  2. MK Merav Ben-Ari (Kulanu)
  3. MK Karin Elharar (Yesh Atid)
  4. MK Zehava Gal-On (Meretz)
  5. MK Yael German (Yesh Atid)
  6. MK Aliza Lavi (Yesh Atid)
  7. MK Merav Michaeli (Hamahane HaZioni)
  8. MK Shuli Moalem Refaeli (HaBayit HaYehudi),
  9. MK Michal Rozin (Meretz)
  10. MK Nahman Shai (Hamahane HaZioni)
  11. MK Aida Toma Suleimann (HaReshima Hameshutefet)
  12. MK Revital Swed (Hamahane HaZioni)
  13. MK Tamar Zandberg (Meretz)

The petition asserted that the space on 98 HaYarkon Street, far from being the innocent motel its owners’ claimed it to be, served as a prison for women in prostitution forcing their subjugation under grueling psychological pressure leading to extreme measures of last resort and suicide. The fact that the brothel has operated for years in plain sight of the public and law enforcement reveals the unbearable ease with which such a place can exist and women can be abused, despite Israel law prohibiting pimping, renting, and maintaining a brothel.

The petition was heard and the presiding judge, Ronit Poznanski-Katz, rejected the owners’ claims they did not know a brothel was operating at the location. The judge issued an order barring operation of the property by its owners until her final determination is heard October 19.

Comments regarding the issuance of the petition…

MK Toma Suleimann:  “The brothel on 98 HaYarkon Street must be closed immediately. It is a hub of hard-core offenses against women, of their mental and physical abuse, a prison from which their only escape is suicide. We will no longer accept the feeble contempt with which the police and law enforcement system confront these places. The women in this building are the weakest in our society and we must voice their cry of anguish, protect them and protect our entire society.”

Adv. Michal Leibel, Director of ATZUM’s Task Force on Human Trafficking“The coalition congratulates the decision by the prosecution and the police to bring to justice the owners of the house on 98 HaYarkon Street. The goal of the petition to participate as Friends of the Court is to highlight the public interest and voice an unequivocal statement against the abuse of women and the prostitution industry in Israel.”

Another tragic situation is now making headlines. While the incident occurred a few months ago, video footage of its unfolding was recently leaked on social media and aired on Israel television. The video showed a young woman, extremely intoxicated and unaware of her surroundings, being sexually abused by many men at Tel-Aviv’s popular Allenby 40 night club, in full view of the other customers, some cheering the abusers on.  This is not an isolated situation. Drugs and sexual violence and abuse, are notoriously part of the Tel-Aviv Thursday nightclub scene.

With public anger over the incident growing, two young women formed a group and organized a protest.  After opening an event on Facebook, thousands of people from around the country immediately showed interest in the event that took place on October 6, in front of the night club.

The group, knowing of TFHT’s recent experience organizing a large scale evening in memory of Jessica, approached us. TFHT’s Director Michal Leibel advised them on how to secure police permits and facilitated the event’s technical arrangements. She also addressed the participants with widely reported effect. The Middle East Eye cited Michal’s assertion that such exploitation of a young woman was a consequence of living in a society where sex is an easily stolen commodity. Below is an excerpt from her address:

There is a connection between what happened at Allenby 40 and 98 HaYarkon.  In both instances, the female body was taken and used.

The Task Force on Human Trafficking opposes the exploitation of all people – men and women – in prostitution and other situations. This is not a fight against sex, sexuality or sexual freedom. This is a struggle against exploitation, against the use of people, against the common perception it is OK to abuse others for sexual gratification.

We do not want to live in a society where it is permissible to buy sex. Sex is not a commodity. Sex is not a product. 

Prostitution is the most extreme example of sexual exploitation – and the change has to start from the extreme.  Why the most extreme?  Because in allowing prostitution, we accept sexual exploitation; we allow paid rape. 

If we want to say no to rape – we must say no to paid rape.

Help us pass a Nordic Model in Israel.

So that the next generation will know buying sex is not an option.

So that the next generation will know taking sex is not an option.

So that the next generation will know that using women is not an option.


Michal’s speech (in Hebrew) can be heard and viewed here: CLICK.

For more information on how to get more involved in TFHT’s work and to support our efforts, please contact