Chesed Around the World – Second chances

By Ilan Preskovsky

“Giving people and clothes a second chance” might sound like a slightly incongruous motto for a charitable organisation, but in the case of Haboydem (“The Attic” in Yiddish), a second-hand, not-for-profit clothing store that employs people dealing with mental illness, it could hardly be more appropriate.

Set up to be a largely self-sufficient organisation that uses all of the profits from the sales of the clothes they sell (all of which are donated) to pay for the store’s rent and for the salaries of their employees and very extensive support staff, Haboydem gives those recovering from mental illness a stepping stone towards reintegrating into society, while at the same time recycling old clothes by either selling them at low prices or literally sending them to be recycled. From the top down, everything about Haboydem is based on the humble idea of a “second chance”.

Two years ago, when philanthropists Elie Lederman and Guy Avihod decided to open the first Haboydem store in Talpiot, Jerusalem, their goal was simple: to take their existing knowledge of charities, specifically dealing with rehabilitation (and in the latter’s case, specifically psychiatric rehabilitation) and create something that would give those in a need a new lease on life without placing any sort of burden – financial or otherwise – on the community-at-large.

Indeed, with their eco-friendly message of recycling old and unwanted clothes and providing a service that does just that, not only are these stores (the first store was quickly joined by a second one in central Jerusalem, and more are planned) not a strain on their communities, but they provide a simple and most useful service. Depending on the quality of the donated garments which they receive, all of the clothing gets sorted into two piles: one for resale and one for recycling, helping to maintain the high quality of the store and its offerings along the way.

Staff responsibilities can include everything up to and including running the store. In the run-up to this current Yom Tov season, in fact, this is precisely what happened, as the high demand called on workers to really step up their game and Lederman, as he himself told me, was impressed by the tremendous job they did.

As a rule, though, Haboydem’s employees tend to work with volunteers who help out with the store, which is another useful tool to help reintegrate them into society. But then, that’s just part of the extensive transitional employment training programme that they offer their employees who make their way to Haboydem via recommendations from social workers. Once employed, these people, whose mental illnesses once precluded them from the kind of social integration that most of us take for granted, are given tailor-made vocational training, occupational therapy, career guidance, and enough hands-on experience that, when they finally move on from Haboydem after their 12-month training period, they are very much equipped to handle whatever comes next.

Part of the success of the stores comes down to the invaluable voluntary aid that the surrounding communities give the whole operation; everything from professional advice to volunteer drivers to huge corporate clothing businesses donating their out-of-season stock. Haboydem’s success as a self-sufficient entity is tremendously bolstered by the chesed of the wider Israeli society around them. And as you can see from the photos of these stores, they hardly look like your typical gemachs, but rather they offer top quality second-hand clothes at amazing prices in shops that look like designer boutiques, thus allowing everyone to enjoy an exciting shopping experience with dignity.

Like so many of the best charitable organisations and NGOs, Haboydem takes to heart the classic idea that the best sort of charity is to teach people self-sufficiency, giving them the skills and abilities to fully support themselves. What sets Haboydem apart, though, is the way that Lederman and Avihod effectively remove the stigma from the oft-stigmatised area of mental illness, while giving legitimacy to the sale of second-hand clothes. They may offer lots of second chances, but they seem to have gotten what they do right on the first try.

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