Erim Bayala Visit
By Mitchell Slepian, ELEM-Entry NY
When you think of Israel, the first thing that often comes to mind is the crisis over the disputed territories. Or perhaps, you think of pious Jews spending their time learning Torah. But how often do you think of the Holy Land’s growing problem with teen and adult age prostitution?
Probably not much.
While rarely spoken of or addressed, every year prostitution in Israel increases at staggering numbers. According to ELEM Youth in Distress in Israel, there are thousands of youth involved in prostitution.
Most of Israel’s prostitutes were sexually abused while growing up. They came to believe that rather than staying in a home where they were forced to have sex with family members, they could get earn a living by entering the field of prostitution. Their ages generally range from 12-24. In most cases they are 16-20. Many still live in the homes they were abused in.
These girls perform numerous sexual acts for their clients But in most cases they receive no or very nominal amounts of money for their service. Generally, close to 90 percent of the payment goes back to the pimps. The women work for food and drinks. In many cases, this is more than they got at home.
Just recently, I spent time in Eilat at ELEM’s Erim Bayala (Awake at Night) house, which helps build feelings of trust that the girls working the streets have never felt.
The small house, which just opened, is adjacent to a high school. Several nights a week ELEM’s volunteers gather there before they walk the streets to find women in need of their help. Currently there are about 10 volunteers at Erim Bayala and 15 working with other ELEM outreach projects in Eilat. About 1,700 people volunteer with ELEM throughout Israel.
Hila, a female volunteer in her early 20s, who is studying social work gave me a quick tour of the facility and we hopped into a taxi to go to the area where the prostitutes work. Upon exiting the cab she showed me the bars where the pimps send them to find clients. The streets were scattered with their “business cards”. These cards showed the prostitute’s photo and contact information. I saw similar on the boardwalk at Frishman Beach, Tel Aviv.
We strolled the streets and Hila told me that the working girls usually hang out in the bars. They know which guys will buy them drinks or something to eat. Once the hook up is made and the drinks and food are done they usually walk to the massage parlor or other locations
The bottom floor of the massage parlor is the Grand Central Station for Eilat’s prostitutes. It contains many doorless rooms and a shower or two. A person could walk by numerous rooms and witness sex acts being performed. The girls then will take a shower and move onto the next client.
The ELEM volunteers often wait in the bars or at the massage parlor. They see the girls exiting their shifts and approach them. ELEM has changed the paradigm of how they work with these people to change their lives.
They never chastise them for working in this profession. They become their friends. They become a person they can talk to about any topic. The girls get cell phones from ELEM staff to use to call them.
It is not uncommon for girls to meet with a volunteer once a week just to chat or have coffee. The volunteers call these girls regularly. They call just to say hello and to build trust. It takes some time for the girls to begin trusting ELEM’s volunteers. But eventually many do.
It is not unusual for the girls to see 20-30 clients over the span of 10-12 hours. So in other words they don’t rest on Shabbat. Sadly, Motzei Shabbat (conclusion of Shabbat, when the work and other restrictions are lifted), it is not uncommon for many Orthodox Jews to go visit these girls. They line up at the massage parlor or in bars. They usually travel in teams of two. One will take off his kippah and long black coat and give it to his friend to hold. He will find a girl and when he is done, the friend will find a girl. And the one who just finished seeing a prostitute will hold his religious effects.
Muslim dads will take their 13 year-old sons to a girl to ensure they lose their virginity.
Hila and I sat in the Beatles bar sipping beer waiting to see if any prostitutes would enter. None did. But that’s because we were there too early. We left the bar. I went back to my hotel. Hila went home.
But somewhere on the streets of Eilat were young girls that needed help from ELEM’s volunteers and professional staff. Thankfully these people are out there donating their time.