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Israel: Prostitutes Find Love

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    All for love By Asaf Carmel 08/09/2005 http://www.haaretz.com/hasen/spages/622814.html Natasha and Shaul (not their real names) met at an escort service in
    Message 1 of 1 , Oct 6, 2005
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      All for love
      By Asaf Carmel

      Natasha and Shaul (not their real names) met at an escort service in
      South Tel Aviv three years ago. She had arrived from Moldova a few
      months earlier. "I was promised work in caring for old people," she
      recalls, "but in the end they put me into work that wasn't so nice."
      He was a client. "Shaul was divorced five years before we met. A man
      has needs, you know. But he treated me nicely, not like the others,"
      Natasha continues.

      "In the end my whole salary went, and he wanted to take me away from
      there and be done with it. But the owner didn't like the idea. He
      demanded $5,000 and also started to treat us badly. Shaul took him for
      a man-to-man and told him, 'Either I leave here peacefully or there is
      going to be trouble.' We each paid $1,000 and left. I had nightmares
      for months afterward."

      She moved in with Shaul and found a job as a caregiver for the elderly
      the work that had brought her to Israel in the first place. "Shaul's
      family received me well, even though I am Russian, and on television
      they keep saying that all the Russian women are whores - and that
      hurts me very much. Shaul is a truck driver, so we told his parents
      and brothers that he unloaded goods exactly next to the house of the
      old woman I care for. We didn't let them ask too many questions. Only
      a cousin of his knows the truth, because he was the one who brought
      him to the place where we met." A few months later, the couple went to
      Moldova to be married. There Shaul met Natasha's small daughter - from
      a previous relationship - who is being raised by Natasha's sister in
      the meantime.

      Many months went by until Natasha, who was smuggled across the border
      from Egypt the first time she entered Israel, was allowed back into
      the country by the Interior Ministry so she could be with her husband.
      Today, they live in a small apartment in a city in the center of the
      country. Natasha, who is 32, is a saleswoman in a store, and Shaul, a
      beefy guy who will soon be 30, continues to burn up the kilometers in
      his truck. Natasha is in her seventh month of pregnancy. She hopes her
      10-year-old daughter will soon be able to join her.

      "In Moldova I registered my daughter as Shaul's daughter," she
      relates. "After I got back to Israel, his whole family suddenly
      started to explain to him that I was just pulling a fast one on him
      and that in the end he would have to pay me child support. I don't
      know what happened to them - maybe someone told them a tale while I
      was there. I told them that we want to live as a family and that they
      should keep out of our life.

      "I want to convert to Judaism," she says, "so that the child in my
      womb will not be different and also to wash everything away and start
      fresh. Shaul and I do not talk about the past, but it bothers me. I
      feel as though I have a stain on my hand that won't come off."

      Over the past few years, dozens of Israelis have married women who
      worked as prostitutes when they arrived in the country. The Interior
      Ministry does not know the exact number, but Reuven Lipkin, a Tel Aviv
      attorney, has already handled more than 20 such cases. Like Natasha
      and Shaul, many of Lipkin's clients met for the first time as
      prostitute and client. Then they fell in love, the woman managed
      somehow to extricate herself from the clutches of her boss, and
      the couple started a new life.

      Does it sound romantic - like Julia Roberts and Richard Gere in
      "Pretty Woman"? Not to the Interior Ministry. Its officials are
      convinced that in most cases the marriage is fictitious, that the
      woman only wants release from bondage and the man is tired of having
      to pay for sex. Those who are insistent on true love have to endure an
      ordeal on the road to happiness. First of all, they have to leave
      Israel in order to marry, and then produce more and more documents.
      During the paper chase, the newlywed wife is usually not allowed to
      enter Israel. It is only months later, and after the Interior Ministry
      ascertains that the husband is well aware of his wife's past as a
      prostitute, that the couple is allowed to reunite.

      All the couples who were interviewed for this article requested that
      their names not be used; all of them are trying to sever themselves
      from the past. They told their families and friends half-truths about
      the circumstances in which they met, and they were not eager to
      describe the start of their life together to a journalist, either. On
      one side are women who were forced into becoming prostitutes; on the
      other are men who sought sexual release in sleazy places, but stood
      out for their humanity. The men may have overcome stigmas and
      inhibitions and redeemed their wives from the gutter, but it is still
      hard for them to admit that they once paid for their favors - and, of
      course, that others did, too.

      Nothing to write home about

      Larissa and Moshe met 14 months ago at an escort service in the
      vicinity of the Central Bus Station in Tel Aviv. Life has not been
      kind to either of them. She arrived in Israel from Ukraine five years
      ago, knowing she would have to work as a prostitute. He is a truck
      driver who three years ago sold one of his kidneys to help him stay
      afloat economically. A year and a half ago he went through an ugly
      divorce; today he and Larissa are raising his two small children. "The
      first time I saw Moshe," Larissa recalls, "I told myself: How terrific
      for the girl who has him for a husband." She soon discovered that her
      client was available and they became closer. "I went there everyday to
      persuade her that the work she was doing was not for her," Moshe
      relates. A few months later they moved into a rented apartment in
      metropolitan Tel Aviv. However, Larissa had not yet severed her ties
      with the escort service. "I was afraid it wouldn't work out. I already
      had a boyfriend here before and I stopped working. Then he turned out
      to be violent and I had a serious problem."

      At the end of January, the police arrested her next to her place of
      work on a charge of being in the country illegally. She was released
      only because she agreed to testify against the owners. "When the
      police called me, my heart dropped to my balls," Moshe says. "But they
      told me that if I signed a bond of NIS 5,000 she would be released. I
      told them I would sign even for NIS 50,000."

      After the arrest Larissa, who is 30, forsook prostitution. "We made a
      Lag b'Omer out of the clothes from the old job [meaning they burned
      them] and opened a new leaf," says Moshe, who is 34. "No one needs to
      know about the past. I buried it deep in the ground. What's important
      is the present. Larissa is working in a food plant and earns a
      respectable living. I love her and my children have it good with her,
      too." Larissa says that Moshe's parents also love her. "Well, but they
      don't know where I worked," she adds. "The family and friends think I
      am a new immigrant who came here alone. My past is not something nice
      to tell about and I don't want people to know."

      "Believe me," Moshe says, "Larissa is a good girl. There are some
      people that you say this work is suitable for, but she is not like
      that. I have no idea how she slid into that kind of work." Larissa
      hears this and becomes agitated: "You have no idea what it is to live
      in Ukraine. I worked there in Social Security and the money I made was
      only enough to pay carfare to get to work. I had no choice but to work
      in prostitution. I didn't steal from anyone."

      Didn't it bother you to hook up with someone you met as a client?

      "Women I worked with told me he would remind me of it my whole life,
      but so far it hasn't happened even once. The truth is that it does
      bother me. Moshe also says it's a pity we didn't meet [somewhere else]."

      They hope the Interior Ministry will recognize their relationship and
      legalize Larissa's status. She is seemingly immune from deportation as
      long as she hasn't testified against the pimps, but she is
      nevertheless careful. "I try to go out only with Moshe and the
      children," she says. If she becomes pregnant, the Interior Ministry
      will have a hard time deporting her, but that is not on the cards
      right now. "I can't support another child," Moshe says. "I don't have
      another kidney to sell."

      The truth stings

      Maurice, 45, and Kay, 27, from Vietnam, met in Tel Aviv three years
      ago. "I have two grown children," Maurice says, "and I divorced their
      mother a few years ago. After that downfall, I started to wander
      around Tel Aviv in all kinds of places, and in one of them I met Kay.
      The place was a spa, not an escort service. The owner emphasized to me
      that I had come to the only place in South Tel Aviv that really is a
      spa. Kay and I liked each other from the first minute. I took her for
      a walk on the beach and we spent as much time together as we could."

      However, the idyll was short-lived. The police did not share the
      owner's vision of a spa and shut it down. Kay, who was in the country
      without a permit, was placed in custody prior to deportation. "I went
      to see her in jail," Maurice recalls, "and I decided to pay her
      airfare to Vietnam so she wouldn't have to wait around for no reason.
      I then joined her there, and not long afterward we were married."

      Kay says the age gap does not bother her. "For me it's not important,"
      she says softly, mixing English and Hebrew. "Love does not depend on
      age." Her family warmly adopted the balding groom from Israel. "In
      Vietnam, most women marry at a very early age," she relates. "I was
      married at 24, which is considered old, and the only thing my mother
      wanted was for me to get married already." Maurice has hardly any
      family in Israel, but his friends were supportive - "both because I
      found a wife and because she is so young."

      They live in a tiny apartment that is crammed with the toys of their
      2-and-a-half year-old daughter. A whirring fan in a corner of the
      living room does nothing to help make the August heat bearable. On the
      wall is a photograph of their wedding: she in a white dress, he in a
      turquoise suit, with the Vietnamese family gathered around. Maurice
      likes his new wife's approach.

      "She has an oriental mentality," he explains. "If the man decides we
      are not going out, then we don't go out. It's a matter of education.
      Take note that we are talking, but she is not intervening in the
      conversation - not like the Israeli women, who always butt in."

      So you are happy?

      "You would be happy, to. If you make a mistake about something, the
      Israeli women let you have it right away. She will say at most, in a
      quiet voice, that you are wrong. When she is really angry, she doesn't
      talk to you."

      How do you see your future?

      "I am now living one centimeter above the poverty line. If I see that
      I can find work that will give me a bit of a better livelihood, I will
      advance my wife. If not, she will stay stuck where she is now. She is
      not bitter, because in any case it's better for her to live here than
      to work like a mule in Vietnam and earn at most $50 a month."

      Yana and Sergei live on the top floor of an apartment building on a
      quiet street in a large city in the center of the country. A
      hyperactive blond boy of 9 months plays on the carpet in the living
      room. Sergei immigrated to Israel from Ukraine in 1990, at the age of
      13. After completing high school in the city where he lives, he served
      as a technician in the air force. He now works for Israel Military
      Industries as an electrician. He met Yana five years ago, not long
      after she arrived in the country from

      Moldova and found herself working for an escort service owned by
      Sergei's brother.

      "I had no choice but to help out there with all kinds of technical
      things," Sergei says, "and that is how I spoke to Yana and a
      relationship developed between us. Every once in a while my brother
      and his partners let me take her out for a day. They wanted to give me
      the feeling that I was one of them and they also trusted me to make
      sure she didn't run off."

      When the relationship between Sergei and Yana became closer, his
      brother tried to break it up. "He no longer agreed to my taking her
      out of the place, so I decided to cut myself off from them and take
      Yana with me," Sergei recalls. "One day I went to some lady who was
      working in the entrance and told her that at 2 A.M. Yana and I were
      leaving. I gave her a little money and told her, 'You saw nothing and
      heard nothing.'

      "The next day my brother called and demanded Yana back. I told him to
      forget it and to treat her as though she had escaped. Then his
      partners called and demanded $6,000. They told me that if I didn't
      pay, they would get to me. I told them, 'No problem, as long as you
      know that 10 policemen will be waiting for you at the entrance.' In
      the end they took the money from a joint account I had with my
      brother. Since then he does not speakto me. Later the police raided
      the place and he was jailed."

      Two and a half years ago, Sergei and Yana went to Moldova to get
      married. "We told her parents that she met me while working as a
      cleaning lady," Sergei says. "There is no reason to tell everything if
      the truth stings so much, especially when she was not to blame." After
      the wedding, Yana spent almost a year in the land of her youth. "Every
      time we submitted a document, they came up with a request for another
      document. One day the Interior Ministry remembered that they also need
      a certificate of good character in Yana's maiden name. Just to get
      that fucking paper she had to travel again all the way from where she
      lives to Kishinev and back. They also asked for a notarized document
      stating exactly how I met her. I think that was not legitimate. It's
      my business if I know what she did, but what business is it of theirs?
      How can I be sure that no one in the Interior Ministry will make the
      information public?"

      Yana, who is 31, is still not fluent in Hebrew. She wants to study
      something, possibly nursing. She wanted to convert to Judaism, but the
      rabbinate rejected her request as long as she has temporary
      citizenship status. "I was very offended by that," Sergei says. "But
      it's not so terrible. Of 613 commandments, she is already observing
      two - she doesn't steal and she doesn't murder. You know, at first the
      connection between us was a bit strange. But afterward I understood
      that life has all kinds of shades and you never know where the good
      thing are."

      The abuse goes on

      An Israeli and a foreign prostitute who marry and want to live in the
      Holy Land have to submit a family unification request to the Interior
      Ministry. Like all other applicants, they have to come up with reams
      of documents, such as a certificate of good character and a birth
      certificate of the foreigner who wants to acquire Israeli citizenship.
      In the case of the prostitutes, most of whom arrived in the country
      illegally, she needs a declaration from her home country, describing
      how she entered the country, where she worked and what she did. The
      problem is that the home countries of most of the prostitutes Russia,
      Ukraine and Moldova do not provide an official document of this kind.
      "It takes three to four months to organize this," attorney Lipkin says.

      The family unification requests are handled by the regional offices of
      the Population Administration. "According to which office it is, I can
      tell you how long the procedure will take," Lipkin says. "In Rishon
      Letzion and in Tel Aviv and Holon it will take a few months. But in
      Petah Tikva it will take at least eight months and it is very likely
      that entry to Israel will not be permitted until after a petition to
      the High Court of Justice. In Ramat Gan, it is 100 percent sure that
      it will get to the High Court.

      "On one occasion, one of the women I represented was asked to produce
      an original birth certificate, not a reconstructed one. In the High
      Court hearing I told Justice Mishael Cheshin: 'Your honor, I don't
      know about you, but I have no idea where my birth certificate is, and
      my parents don't know, either. It's doubtful that the state's
      representative knows where his certificate is.' That very day we got a
      decision in favor of the petition."

      Even after the young couple successfully produces all the relevant
      documents and the High Court authorizes the unification, if necessary,
      the ordeal is not over. A few weeks after the woman arrives back in
      the country, she is summoned to a hearing in the Interior Ministry.
      "In her husband's presence, she has to tell about her past as a
      prostitute after already declaring it in detail," Lipkin says. "Why
      exactly is this humiliation necessary?"

      Another few weeks ago go by, and the couple is summoned to the Liaison
      Bureau, the unit that used to deal with bringing Jews from the Soviet
      Union to Israel, in order to ascertain the authenticity of the
      documents. Some of the couples complain about humiliating treatment
      there, too. The Liaison Bureau refused to allow the director of the
      consular section, Hanan Ahituv, to be interviewed for this article.

      Leah Greenfeter-Gold, director of the Awareness Center for the study
      of prostitution and white slavery (trafficking in women), is also
      outraged by the attitude of the authorities toward couples consisting
      of Israeli men and former prostitutes: "These are women who underwent
      great abuse in Israel but still found a place of tranquillity here and
      are trying to establish a home and a family. But the Population
      Administration continues to abuse them and acts contrary to the
      decisions of the government and the interior ministers."

      Sasi Katzir, head of the Population Center, is not fazed by the
      complaints. "There are dozens of cases every year of people who were
      granted status by fraud," he asserts, "and in some cases through the
      marriage of Israelis and call girls. In every such case we examine the
      correctness of the marriage. Sometimes the age gap is so great that it
      is clear the marriage will not last." At least four and a half years
      must go by from the moment a woman's entry into Israel is approved
      until she receives full citizenship. "We examine the correctness
      of the marriage every year, and if we receive all kinds of information
      that the couple has separated, we check those, too."

      Katzir is certain that an original birth certificate can be obtained
      in Ukraine without any problem. "I have already heard that it's
      impossible to get to documents of various kinds, but it turns out that
      it is possible. All the documents we request are very important for
      knowing who we are letting into the country. I want to remind you that
      even the Law of Return has qualifications."

      He admits that there is a lack of uniformity among the branches of the
      Population Administration. "You reached me just as I was leaving a
      seminar on the subject of graduated naturalization, and I hope that
      the disparities you are talking about are going to be reduced.

      "A new procedure is due to come into effect very shortly. People
      seeking family unification will be able to submit a few preliminary
      documents, pay a deposit and enter the country within 30 days. They
      will then see to getting the other documents from here."

      Katzir does not see the problem in confronting a former prostitute and
      her husband with the painful past. "When data is checked and we know
      the woman engaged in prostitution, the facts have to be verified. She
      speaks, what she says is taken down and that is the end of the matter."

      The age factor

      The story of Aryeh and Svetlana is Katzir's bad dream. He is a bus
      driver aged 57, she a Ukrainian of 28. He met her seven months ago,
      through a friend. "She is a good deal younger than I am, that is true,
      but we fell in love very quickly and moved in together. She is
      actually the first woman I have lived with for more than two days in
      the past 20 years."

      Svetlana studied literature at a Ukraine university, but didn't know
      what to do afterward. Eventually she ended up in Israel, knowing she
      would work as a prostitute here. "She knew exactly what she was coming
      to," Aryeh says. "Where she comes from there is no electricity after
      11 P.M. and the water is rationed. All people want to do is survive.
      But God gave the women there a gift - beauty and femininity - and they
      use that gift to escape."

      When he met Svetlana, she was already independent. "She chose her
      clients herself. But after we fell in love she immediately became a
      housewife. You should only get cooking like hers. Instead of the money
      she sent the family, I send them a certain amount every month."

      One day Svetlana went out to buy something and was picked up by the
      Immigration Police. She was deported to Ukraine; Aryeh flew there as
      fast as he could. "Her family received me fantastically and a short
      time later we were married." He does not recoil at maintaining a
      spousal relationship with a woman who engaged in prostitution not long
      before. "I never saw those women negatively. I was divorced for 25
      years and occasionally I went to women like that. It's true that every
      once in a while I would start imagining who she was with and what she
      did, and I also talked to her about it. She told me 'It was only body,
      I did not give more than that.'"

      Returning to Israel, he launched a legal battle to be reunited with
      Svetlana. Sitting in his neglected apartment on the outskirts of Tel
      Aviv, he opens an album with photographs of his alluring wife. "How
      can you not fall in love with something like this?" he says
      yearningly. "I consulted with a certain association and they told me
      that the age factor is quite critical, but who plans such things? I
      just paid a phone bill of NIS 3,000. If I am not allowed to live here
      with my wife, I will live with her somewhere else. No, definitely not
      in Ukraine, but in another country in Europe, where I was born and
      where I am eligible for citizenship. At my age it's not easy to start
      a new life, but maybe that will prove to the Interior Ministry that we
      are truly in love."

      The sin on their heads

      In contrast to all the other men mentioned in the article, Shmuel, 44,
      met Marina, 25, after she had fled the clutches of the pimps. "I came
      to Israel from Russia in 2000," she relates dryly, "and during a year
      I was sold six times." Finally, she was arrested in a police raid on
      the apartment at which she was staying. But Marina refused to accept
      her fate. She testified against the pimps and was released from prison.

      A good-hearted man opened his house to her, and his neighbors
      introduced her to Shmuel, who emigrated from the Soviet Union in the
      1970s. "They asked me to translate documents she received from the
      police," he relates. "The first time I saw her, she looked like a
      wounded, scared animal. She hardly said a word."

      Marina had good cause for concern. Two of the pimps who were convicted
      because of her testimony lived closed to her secret apartment. "One
      day they were on furlough and they suddenly spotted me. Somehow I got
      away, but I heard one of them say, 'There is the whore, I will kill her.'"

      The threats drew Marina and Shmuel even closer. "I asked her whether
      she was sure she wanted to be with me or whether maybe the whole thing
      started only because I helped her," he says. "After all, 20 years
      separate us. She did not recoil, and I pressed the issue: I asked her
      what would happen if one day I had only enough money for bread and
      salt. She replied that on that day she would eat bread and salt with
      me. That won me over. Today we are not far from that situation, and we
      are truly together."

      Marina barely ekes out a living from translation work; Shmuel is
      recovering from a serious operation and is not working. She did not
      make do with testifying against the pimps in a criminal procedure; she
      also filed suit against them in the Regional Labor Court in Be'er
      Sheva. She won the case. The pimps were ordered to pay her NIS
      300,000. Now all that remains is to collect the money. "We got 300,000
      on paper," Shmuel says, disappointed.

      Instead of paying, the pimps send Marina increasingly threatening
      messages. "Two days ago someone called me and said he was an
      investigator for the National Insurance Institute," Shmuel says. "I
      was still drowsy from sleep and I gave him the address. Go know who it
      was." A few days later they had to leave the apartment because they
      could not pay the rent.

      Marina has the status of a foreign worker, which she received because
      she was recognized as a victim of white slavery. A month and a half
      ago she gave birth to her first child, a daughter. Because of her
      mother's status, the baby is not eligible for health insurance. Only
      after Shmuel obtains the state's recognition of his paternity will the
      infant be issued a blue-and-white ID number. "Who ever heard of
      anything like it?" he says angrily. "I brought a baby into the world
      and now I have to prove I am her father."

      Seven years ago, following the death of his brother, Shmuel became
      religiously observant. He wears a black skullcap and has a thick
      beard. Marina underwent conversion in the court of Rabbi Nissim
      Karlitz, in Bnei Brak. "I did not induce her," Shumel emphasizes. "I
      told her it was her affair and that anyone who does not do it for the
      sake of heaven is punished severely." After Marina's conversion the
      couple wanted to be married in a religious ceremony, but then it
      turned out that the special conversion court, headed by Rabbi Haim
      Druckman the state institution that is supposed to affirm Marina's
      affiliation with the Jewish people refuses to recognize the private
      conversion she underwent.

      "The court asked me how long I have known her and whether I am aware
      of her past," Shmuel says, barely able to control his wrath. "I told
      them, 'Yes, I took her out of there.' It says in the Torah, 'Everyone
      who returns is welcomed.' Apparently the court forgot that before the
      giving of the Torah on Mount Sinai they were not Jews, either."
      According to the halakha (Jewish religious law), Marina and Shmuel are
      forbidden to live together, not to mention have children. "That is not
      quite accurate," Shmuel says. "There is an explicit halakha about
      getting married. You don't need a rabbinate or rabbis. All you need is
      a ring of sanctification and two witnesses, and we did everything that
      was needed." But he is not satisfied with the solution under duress.
      "We are not allowed to live together, but we have no choice. I cannot
      throw her into the street, you know. Instead of helping us to get
      married as quickly as possible, the rabbinate is only holding us up.
      That sin is on their heads, not ours."



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