Clothes > Just Covering Our Bodies

Today I had my first day of going on my own to participate in some volunteer work. In the beginning of the program we had a list of possible places we could volunteer and one of them was at a local Ashqelon thrift store. I remember when it was being described it said, “think of it like a Marshall’s but with a social conscience.” This could not be more fitting.

I wrote the thrift store as my first choice so I was more than pleased when I found out I will be getting to work there one day a week. Today was my first day. I am working there with one other Otzmanikim, Lindsey. We set out quite early to give ourselves time for the buses and the fact that we had no clue really where we were going. The only thing we knew was that it is on “Penis Street.” I am not joking you, and it is pronounced the exact same way. It’s Ok, you’re allowed to laugh. We all did. The best part is when I got to ask the bus driver if he was going in that area: “Sleecha, eyfo rehov penis?” (Excuse me, where is penis street?) Unfortunately the bus drivers are not the nicest men in the world, and they usually know little English. So asking him wasn’t too helpful. However, there was a woman on the bus who was on her cell phone and spoke great English. Sometimes I think G-d places these people in the world for me. After she got off the phone I asked her if she knew where it was. Embarrassed, I kept pronouncing the street name “penas.” Eventually she caught on and said, “Oh! Penis!” I have no idea about a thrift store on there but I know the street because of what it’s called. Hilarious.

Eventually Lindsey and I made our way to Penis Street and met an Israeli who is 17 years old. He is one of the founders of the store and began to tell us the history behind it. It all started because two brothers got into a bad argument one day (not sure if it was a physical altercation) over a white t-shirt. Between the two of them there was only one white t-shirt and they both needed to go to school. Who was to wear it?

After hearing about this a group of high school kids along with a few adults started this thrift store. It is an old abandoned school building and it is incredible. I expected to be walking into a more Salvation Army style store. But when I walked inside I felt like I was entering a hip boutique. They had taken the old school chairs and painted them bright yellow. The bottoms were cut off and they were nailed to the walls as clothes holders. The old textbooks are also screwed into the walls and are hung up all over. There are even dressings rooms to go into! There are three rooms in total. When you enter there is a couch you can sit on with the desk where you buy your clothes or accessories. There are also two amazing decorative boards that I can’t really describe but I promise I will post pictures in later entries and you can see what I am talking about.

There is a room filled with clothes of all sizes and styles. There is another room filled with sneakers, belts, hats, sunglasses, etc. The majority of these clothes have been donated by people like you and me, but some of them have never been worn – stores have donated clothes that may have a button torn or a zipper not aligned, etc.

The store closes in July and is re-opening in two weeks. For today we worked on cleaning up all the dust and bugs that collected and organized some things. Next week we are getting a whole new stock of clothes to place out for sale. The week after that is when the store will open. Our manager, Daphna, told us that there is a line outside the school for people waiting to come in and shop! I am really excited to be a part of this and also to speak Hebrew with these customers.

The place itself is sort of a secret. There is no sign outside the school highlighting the fact that there is a thrift store inside. The customers themselves are specially chosen based on their family’s income level. The main goal of the store is to make sure that everyone has a white t-shirt to wear to school to every day, plus some.

The odd thing about all of this is that it would make a great fit to the book I am reading. Remember when I told the story in a past entry about being in a bookstore in Tel Aviv and not realizing a bomb was about to go off behind me because I was so focused on finding the right book? Well that book ended up being “The Thoughtful Dresser.” The description on the back will say enough: “Clothes matter, whether you are interested in fashion or not, because how we choose to dress defines who we are. How we look and what we wear tells a story. Some stories are simple, like the teenager trying to fit in, or the woman turning fifty renouncing invisibility. Some are profound, like that of the immigrant who arrives in a new country and works to blend in by changing the way she dresses, or of the woman whose hat saved her life in Nazi Germany.”

I have learned a few things already from what I read so far. The most interesting to note is that Hugo Boss was the designer of many Nazi uniforms. Not that I bought from him before, but I certainly won’t anymore. I also thought it was very interesting that the author noted how even people who claim they have no interest in fashion, do actually have a minor interest because they choose certain clothes to wear to convey whatever image they want to project.

All in all I want to end this entry with the fact that clothes matter, and everyone deserves a chance to wear what makes them happy. Like I said in the beginning of this entry when I was referring to the woman on the bus, sometimes I think G-d placed people or things for me here. In this instance I think I was supposed to buy “The Thoughtful Dresser” and begin reading it before I was volunteering at the thrift store. This volunteer job would have had meaning before of course, but now it has so much more of a significance to me and I couldn’t be more thankful for that.


5 thoughts on “Clothes > Just Covering Our Bodies

  1. Omg lauren – I am in my hotel room reading this entry and I am literally laughing out loud!! It’s bad enough the street name – but the woman’s resppnse on the bus when you said penas – and she responded oh penis – i don’t know how you didn’t fall on the floor laughing! Once I’m past my laughter I love all the coincidences you are experiencing – which really means there are no coincidences – you are experiencing and encountering all you should be. That’s my profound response of the night!

  2. I totally agree with you regarding people chosing what they wear to tell who they are. So, now you know why I was so upset when Grandma chastised me for my “belly button” ring….what’s wrong with that on a 50 year old belly!!! LOL!
    I helped out at the Hadassah thrift shop about 18 years ago….it was in a dusty old storefront in downtown Stamford. Grandma did it for a billion years, so I helped a few times when I was off in the summers….I loved putting the “shmatas” on hangers and trying to make an “outfit” by adding jewelry and accessories!

  3. What a great story, Lauren! The street name is hilarious. Good job trying to talk to the bus driver though. I don’t know if I could have done that with a straight face!

    I also can’t help but think of some of my students who wear the same clothes to school all the time – in Cambridge. I love how the families for your store are chosen based on income level and need. And how creative how they use the school furniture and books! We do a clothing drive for families in need in my school and the look on their faces when they receive clothes makes me cry every year. You’re doing a really special thing for those families. Keep up the good work!

    Miss you 🙂

  4. I love the new look of your blog!!!! Very pleasing to the eye – and for you it must remind you of fall. Look forward to another entry!

    Love, Mom

    • Thanks! It needed a more “Laursy” layout and feel to it. The leaf is a heart-shaped leaf I found on my hike last week. I didn’t really think of it as a ‘fall picture’ but you are right – it does work well! Plus it’s perfect because I really miss the leaves changing and the fall feeling right now!

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