Of Mermaids and Prostitutes


February 14, 2008

By David Elcott

Today was a day of many frustrations, of trying to come to grips with the enormity of the tasks, the sensation that every step forward is matched by back sliding, the deep anxiety that what we are doing does not make a real difference. Last night, Joni wondered whether we could find a way to explain all we have seen to those who have not shared this AJWS journey. Today, walking through the rubble and the pollution, we spoke with a woman with her sweet child who explained in a shy voice that her life was transformed by an AJWS grantee, The Center for Domestic Violence Prevention. She was our reminder that, despite everything we cannot accomplish, for this woman who is alive and working, one success is the whole world.

The same could be also said for our afternoon with Lady's Mermaid Bureau, a civic group supported for the first time by AJWS. Their mission is to provide care, support and advocacy for commercial sex workers. We sat and listened as young prostitutes described their lives, the abuse, the rape and the violence they face. The group split up with each of our female participants sitting with a number of these women, exchanging stories about "men," laughing with an intimacy that in some way seemed crazy—white, highly educated and successful Jewish women from North America in deep conversation with HIV infected African prostitutes whose families have abandoned them. Pretty remarkable, when you think about it.

If we had doubts at the beginning of the day, the inspiration provided by the AJWS grantees was uplifting—if they, who face these conditions day in and day out, remain passionate and dedicated, then we who are privileged surely can stand with them. And we do.