Passover and Modern Slavery

modern day slaveryIn Israel and all around the world Jews are preparing for Passover. While everyone has their own way of celebrating the holiday, most Jews will dedicate at least one night to retelling the story of Pesach and remembering when we were slaves in Egypt. Yet, most people tend to think of slavery in a historical context, making it difficult to relate to the experience of slavery.

However, slavery persists among us. The United Nations estimates that 27 million people are enslaved worldwide, meaning that more people are enslaved now than at any other point in human history. Although slavery has been outlawed in every country, there isn’t a country in the world free of it – including Israel. Whether we like it or not, slavery continues to be a pressing and modern issue.

Pesach is a particularly appropriate time to consider questions of slavery. During this holiday we encourage you to think deeply about the Jewish people’s history of oppression. It is this history that positions us to uniquely understand the suffering of others still living in bondage. ATZUM’s Task Force on Human Trafficking has developed a guide to help you and your community talk about and address modern slavery.

Click here to download this Passover supplement. - Pesach-and-Modern-Slavery

This holiday let us celebrate the freedom we were granted, by advocating for the freedom of others. Hag Pesach Semach, and a season of freedom from hate and oppression for all Israel and all of humankind.


Prostitution in the Country That is meant to be a Light Unto the Nations

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What does it mean to be a Jewish State? Every day, thousands of Israelis and Jews across the world ask themselves this very question. Yet, all too often when answering, we focus on the demographics of a Jewish state as opposed to the values a Jewish state upholds.

When was the last time we asked ourselves, “Would a Jewish state allow men to purchase the bodies of women and children?”

For the past 11 years ATZUM’s Task Force on Human Trafficking (TFHT ) has been working tirelessly to eradicate sex trafficking and prostitution in Israel, and has seen significant changes.  Unlike in the 1990’s and early 2000’s, Israel is no longer a major destination for sex trafficking victims.  Israel has established shelters for victims of trafficking and has passed strong anti-trafficking legislation; however, Israel unfortunately has still failed to address the demand for prostitution.

In the country intended to be a “light unto the nations,” the act of purchasing sexual services is legal, therefore, creating a market in which 15,000 prostituted persons, 5,000 of whom are children, are sold daily.  This, plain and simple, forgoes the strong value of what a Jewish state should stand for.

Every day the Task Force works to raise public awareness about the realties of prostitution, and lobby the Knesset to pass legislation that would criminalize the act and provide social services for those who wish to escape the brutal world of prostitution.

Please join our efforts in strengthening the values of our Jewish state.  Even if you only have a few minutes, you can help. Join Project 119 and receive weekly emails from TFHT staff to send to a Knesset Member.  Copy, paste and send. It’s that easy.

These emails are an essential part of our lobbying campaign and encourage the MKs to advance legislation proven to drastically reduce the number of people in prostitution. 

To learn how you can help, click here to join Project 119.  We implore you to think about what a Jewish state looks like, and to work with us to ensure that Israel realizes the dream that it was founded upon.  

Now Accepting Applications for the Abe and Gert Nutkis Scholarship

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ATZUM is pleased to announce that we are now accepting applications for the Abe and Gert Nutkis Scholarship. The application deadline is March 15, 2014.
The application can be found here.

The Abe and Gert Nutkis Scholarship is intended to enable young adults to study and volunteer in Israel. The recipients will receive up to $5,000, which will assist them in studying in a co-educational institution, while volunteering a minimum of four hours a week, either with ATZUM or an organization approved by ATZUM. Priority will be given to applicants with financial need and those who have little or no previous experience in Israel.

Past recipients have lived in Tel Aviv, Jerusalem, and various other locations throughout Israel. Their courses have covered a wide range of topics from religion to art history. In addition, candidates are afforded the opportunity to learn Hebrew as well as experience and explore Israeli Society.

Current and past AGN recipients have found volunteer placements that allow them to give back to Israel in unique ways. For instance, current AGN recipient Tamee Albrecht is using her background in hydrology to volunteer with the Geological Survey of Israel. Tamee is working alongside research institutions and non-profits to support water sustainability and to help ensure that all Israelis have access to clean water. In what unique way will you give back during your year in Israel?

Start your application today for the 2014-15 academic year!


Report: 1 Million Visits to Prostituted Women in Israel Monthly

More than one million times each month, prostituted persons are exploited in Israel, according to an investigative report by Israel’s Channel 1 TV.

Gili Varon, Director of ATZUM's Task Force on Human Trafficking, being interviewed as part of the Channel 1 expose

Gili Varon, Director of ATZUM’s Task Force on Human Trafficking, being interviewed as part of the Channel 1 expose

The report exposed the extensive prostitution “industry” throughout Israel and the abuse, exploitation and misery of the thousands of women who are prostituted to serve the demand for paid sexual services.  

“Is there such a thing as a woman who wants to be in prostitution?” the reporter asked a formerly prostituted woman, who now works in a shelter helping other women and girls exit the nightmare and rebuild their lives.

“There is no such thing as a woman who goes into prostitution because that’s what she wants to do,” was her response. “It’s nothing more than emotional and physical abuse. It slowly murders your soul. I’ve never met anyone who does it by choice.”

The report explores possible solutions to this widespread degradation of women’s rights and dignity in Israel, including  the campaign to adopt the Nordic Model, which ATZUM is spearheading.

The Nordic Model criminalizes the purchase of sexual services, while decriminalizing the sale of such services. It thus protects vulnerable women, by sending a strong message that buying sex is not to be tolerated.  The model originated in Sweden, which has seen a major decrease in prostitution since its introduction, as well as a shift in the society’s view of people who buy sexual services.

Gili Varon, Director of ATZUM’s Task Force’ on Human Trafficking, was interviewed as part of the TV report. She was asked to respond to those who say that the sale and purchase of sex should be legalized and regulated, as opposed to the Nordic Model. 

“The model of regulated prostitution is unconscionable from a moral standpoint, and in fact it has failed in those countries where it has been implemented,” Gili said in her interview. “We have to pursue the proposed legislation to criminalize buying sex, whereby criminal status is imposed on buyers. They are perpetuating this injustice and exploiting women who have been fallen to a low place due to difficult life circumstances.”

View the full Channel 1 report here (in Hebrew):

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This report highlights the urgent need for action against the prostitution scourge in Israel. 

To learn more about ATZUM’s campaign to fight prositution in Israel, visit the Task Force on Human Trafficking

You’re Invited to ATZUM’s Event in Chicago on October 8

Please join us for the eighth annual gathering of the Chicago chapter of Friends of ATZUM: Providing direct assistance to survivors of terror in Israel


Tuesday, October 8, 2013

7:00 p.m.

at the home of Lisa and Todd Fishbein

833 Kimballwood Lane, Highland Park

Please RSVP to


We will be joined by

Rabbi Levi D. Lauer

Founding Executive Director, ATZUM


 Yael & Micha Hershkovitz

Terror and Beyond: Relentless Memory, Old Wounds and New Dreams


About Yael Hershkovitz

yael picYael Hershkovitz, a practicing attorney, was born in 1977 in Ashdod and grew up in Jerusalem. Her army service was completed in the Ministry of Defense.

In 2004, on her way to work, Yael was gravely injured in a central Jerusalem, terrorist bus bombing that murdered 11 Israelis and injured many more. Gravely wounded, Yael

suffered facial burns and severe head, hearing and sight injuries and other wounds. She endured a lengthy hospitalization and prolonged, difficult rehabilitation, which included repeated surgeries to reconstruct her scalp, improve her eyesight and hearing, and repair extensive facial scarring.

Less than a year after the attack, with incalculable courage and determination, Yael began her BA studies in law and, soon after passing the qualifying exams and internship, began her LLM. In 2011, she married Micha Hershkovitz. They are currently living in San Diego where Micha is studying for an MBA and where, during the past year, Yael underwent three additional surgeries related to her hearing injury.

 We are fortunate to have Yael and Micha as our guests to share their story.

Who Cares About Murdered Prostitutes in Israel?

On August 26th, an article by ATZUM’s Task Force on Human Trafficking’s Rebecca Hughes’s was published on the Times of Israel website, entitled ‘Murdering a ‘Certain Kind’ of Woman’.

The article discusses the recent case of the murder of a prostituted woman in Tel Aviv.

It also explores other stories of murdered prostitutes, along with the societal and psychological issues that lead to one class of persons being so at-risk.

You can read the article here

Jewish Teens Confront the Evils of Prostitution

ATZUM’s Task Force on Human Trafficking’s Natasha Mann recently presented three talks about prostitution to Jewish teens.

Natasha’s topic was ‘Prostitution, Human Trafficking, and the Law’ at Noam Camp, an annual Jewish youth program. The first talk was aimed at a group of around 30 youth leaders, aged from seventeen upwards.

Afterwards, the leaders asked her to present talks to the two camps she worked with in France – one of which consisted of 14-year-olds, and the other of 15-year-olds. Each group consisted of around 60 teenagers.

“I was concerned that they were too young to process the subject, or to take it seriously,” Natasha remarked, “but they surprised me. They listened quietly, asked mature and thoughtful questions, and then many of them approached me afterwards to talk about it.”

Learn more about ATZUM’s Task Force on Human Trafficking.


New Year’s Amends for Israel’s Shameful Prostitution Record

The Jewish High Holidays are a time for reflection and making amends for past wrongs. 

In this spirit, ATZUM’s founder and director Rabbi Levi Lauer’s call for awareness and change to Israel’s attitude to prostitution was published in The Jerusalem Post this week.

“The bad news is that because of the unabated, enormous demand for paid sexual services (i.e. the rape and exploitation of sex slaves and prostituted persons), thousands of Israeli women, and girls as young as 13, are coerced by the ravages of poverty, incest and rape, and inhospitable homes and streets, into sexual servitude,” wrote Rabbi Lauer.

As well as laying down the facts about the wide extent of the problem, Rabbi Lauer also pointed the way to begin rectifying this shameful situation in the New Jewish Year.

“In this season of collective Jewish repentance, now is the time to put an end to this evil. Now is the time to support the legislation pending in the Knesset to criminalize the purchase of sexual services and decriminalize the provider of that dehumanization,” he wrote.

Read the full Jerusalem Post article here

Jewish Community Unites Against Sex Trafficking (Video)

Human trafficking is a $32 billion annual business, with an estimated 70 percent generated by sex trafficking.

ATZUM’s founder and director Rabbi Levi Lauer participated in a powerful conference hosted by UJA-Federation’s Task force on Family Violence, which ATZUM’s Task Force on Human Trafficking helped to organize. Rabbi Lauer and other conference participants are interviewed in this video entitled We Were Slaves: the Jewish Community Unites Against Sex Trafficking.

This 3-minute video explains the urgent need for this initiative and delivers the resounding message: Sex trafficking is our problem and we, the Jewish community, can take steps to stop it. 

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Atzum’s Founding Executive Director Levi Lauer is featured in this video (starting at 2:34)

“Sex trafficking is an abuse of the Divine image, into which every human being was born,” is his core message.

You can learn more about this Jewish communal initiative here:

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A Tribute to Ellen Singer: Director of ATZUM’s US Office

The ATZUM family wishes to pay tribute to Ellen Singer, director of ATZUM’s US office, who passed away on June 9th.

Ellen Singer

Ellen Singer

Since its founding 11 years ago, Ellen managed ATZUM’s U.S. administrative responsibilities with extraordinary dedication and efficiency – from her home office in Youngsville, N.Y., without salary. Ellen’s work was not “volunteer” in the sense it embodied the highest standards of uncompromising responsibility, even as she met the demands of family and professional life, and engaged a relentless eight-year battle with cancer. Ellen was indeed our colleague in every meaningful expression that relationship might convey.
She was also far more than that to me and to nearly all who worked with and met her.  A fine Jewish educator and youth counselor; tirelessly devoted member of varied and diverse Jewish communities and learning groups; wonderfully generous contributor to efforts to address critical human need; unfailing source of plainspoken wisdom wrought frequently with usefully indelicate and unvarnished humor; and perhaps above all a woman, wife and mother of boundless caring and capacity to understand and respond to the pain or need of another. She taught us how to care more deeply, see more clearly, work more resourcefully.
We shall miss her dearly for that fine thinking she brought to our efforts and for her contagious determination to make the worlds of Jewish and other endeavor kinder, gentler, better educated and more decent than we would have been had we not been blessed by her friendship. I earnestly hope ATZUM shall prove worthy of her dedication and on behalf of our staff and the innumerable individuals who benefited from her work, extend tanhumim to Don and Vinny and to Ellen’s family and pray they will find comfort among the mourners of Zion and Yerushalayim.
Yehi zikhra barukh.
Levi Lauer
Founding Executive Director, ATZUM