|Culture with a social-change agenda in Haifa|
|Written by Ruby Ong|
The upper level of Haifa's Kapiut café was full last Sunday night. Sixty people turned out to hear Anat Gur talk about her latest book, Women Abandoned, based on interviews and conversations with Israeli prostitutes. The evening, moderated by Geora Rosen, the director of the NGO umbrella group Civic Leadership, was part of an initiative to promote SHATIL's social-change agenda.
According to Shimon Malka, Director of SHATIL's Center for Policy Change, "Research, philosophy, and literature all give rise to debate, new perspectives, and the assumption of responsibility for social change. Art, in whatever form, is a polite type of cultural graffiti, which invites the public to stop, to think, and to do."
Gur, who runs a support center for women in need, provided some sobering facts. For example, some 60 percent of men in Israel have visited a prostitute at least once, which translates into over 1 million visits per year. Most prostitutes were victims of sexual abuse, and regrettably, more pre-teen girls are turning to prostitution than ever before. Gur's presentation sparked a lively, emotionally charged question-and-answer period. When one woman asked whether it was possible to escape from the trauma of prostitution, the answer came from a usual place – two women seated in the audience. These former prostitutes discussed their own experiences, and commented that the fact that they could attend such an event demonstrates how far they have come.
The program in Haifa was the first in a series of SHATIL-sponsored events in the northern city on the theme of bridging culture and social change. Similar events will soon take place in Be'er Sheva. These evenings resemble the literary-café program SHATIL has long sponsored in Jerusalem at the Tmol Shilshom cafe, at which activists, academics, and authors share their insights with the public in an open, informal atmosphere.
SHATIL sees these events as a means for identifying new agents for social change; raising awareness of social-justice issues, too often absent from the mainstream agenda; and fostering an environment in which free-flowing discussion can advance tangible solutions and new strategies. Judging from the turnout and enthusiastic response to the Haifa evening, this formula is an important strategy with great potential to foment social change.