Prostitutes in Israel Are Finding New Lives in Training for the Fashion World

From The New York Times:

Published: January 3, 2013

TEL AVIV — For 20 years Aviva, 48, flamboyant and transgendered, worked the streets of the business district of this Mediterranean city, as well as the seedy square mile around the central bus station and the Tel Baruch beach, once a notorious hub of Israeli prostitution that has become a spruced up stretch of sandy coast.

Alona, 40, immigrated to Israel with her parents from Ukraine in the early 1990s. Her circumstances quickly degenerated from working in a casino to a life derailed by debts, drugs and prostitution. When she was not in prison, the squalid streets around the bus station became her home.

“In the streets there was no toilet, no toilet paper,” Alona said. “I forgot a lot of things, like how to look after myself, to love myself. I learned to survive.”

Now, in an endeavor as far removed from their former lives as the gleaming banks and trendy boutiques of Tel Aviv are from the city’s sleazy subculture, the two, who asked to be identified only by their first names, recently completed a free course in styling and the retail clothing business. Along with other former prostitutes who have received similar training in dress design and sewing, they are now aiming to find a place in the world of fashion. There is always demand for sales staff in Tel Aviv’s bustling stores, and one talented graduate even went on to a professional design school on a scholarship.

“The course gave me a lot of self-confidence and knowledge,” Aviva said. “Maybe one day I’ll be able to start something of my own. When they gave me the certificate — the first in my life — I was proud of myself. I’d done something positive.”

The idea for the program grew up from the underside of Tel Aviv.

The program’s initiator, Lilach Tzur Ben-Moshe, was working as a fashion writer and editor at a leading Hebrew news Web site and volunteering at the city’s rape crisis center when, four years ago, she moved to the dilapidated Shapira Quarter near the bus station. Her squalid new neighborhood exposed her to the full misery of the sex trade, and she determined to help women to leave it.

“I didn’t want just to answer the phone in the help center,” she said. “I wanted to offer something more optimistic, more beautiful, the opposite of that awful world of prostitution.”

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