‘Listen up, ladies. We’re going to make fools out of ourselves tonight so we can get it out of our system and look really professional on Wednesday night,” announced Tamar Lesnick last Sunday to the 40 anything-but-professional models at the dress rehearsal for the first religious women’s fashion show to hit Beit Shemesh.

Lesnick is just one of the many dedicated volunteers who helped put together a ladies-only “evening of fashion and glamour” last week to raise funds for Ligdol V’lifroach (LVL), or Mercaz Rakefet. The nonprofit organization provides developmental services for special needs and teens in the Beit Shemesh and Mateh Yehuda region.

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“We work with babies with Down syndrome from the age of just three months, as well as a spectrum of children with learning difficulties to teens who need psychological and pedagogic assessments needed for leniencies in matriculation exams. Everybody benefits from the money raised from our fund-raising activities, not just children from underprivileged backgrounds,” notes former New Yorker Ziva Schapiro who, with her husband, David, founded Mercaz Rakefet more than 10 years ago.

“The health funds don’t cover all our costs. We also need funds for staff training on a highly professional level,” she explains.

The fashion show, in which nine designers/ boutiques and eight vendors of hats, scarves and jewelry were represented, was the brainchild of Australian-born Emma Link, who is responsible for fund-raising and development at LVL.

“This has been such a fun project to create. It’s so rewarding to see all our work coming together and to see everyone pitching in,” says Link.

And pitch in they did. The municipality provided the auditorium, which held 200 people, and many local businesses and individuals supported the event with their talents and sponsorship.

On the night of the fashion show, the hall sparkled, models of various ages and head coverings glowed with excitement, and the organizers brimmed with anticipation.

Ariella Spero, a teacher of English and dance, enjoyed every moment of her two minutes of modeling stardom: “Never in my wildest dreams did I think I would be a model; but for a cause like this, how could I refuse?” Spero was joined on the catwalk by her mother-in-law Yehudit, 57, and her sister-in-law Miriam Steinhart, who says that Mercaz Rakefet is one of the main reasons she lives in Ramat Beit Shemesh.

Steinhart modeled one of Belgian-born Amanda K’s trendy scarves.

Amanda K is a designer with an eye for unusual creations. Her latest fashion hit are the unconventional head pieces, each uniquely handcrafted and sometimes matched for specific events of her clients.

Another designer, Yochi Moshe, opened her boutique in the old industrial center of Beit Shemesh in 1995. She caters to religious teens and women, and her prices are affordable. “I like this population,” says Moshe.

Other popular local vendors represented in the fashion show included Shosha and Oranit, whose models did them proud. The newest vendor to appear on the fashion scene is Deborah Felstein of Netanya, whose business is just three weeks old. Her clothes and accessories hail from Italy, Germany, Denmark and Spain and are hand picked by Felstein at exhibitions and showrooms.

“I felt there was a lack of chic clothes for religious women in Israel,” Felstein said. She hoped her clothing would appeal to both religious and non-religious women, and that she had plenty of fashion items that could suit any occasion. She prides herself on having a large selection of clothes that are expertly styled, beautifully cut and of exceptional high quality.

Host Anna Turetsky sported a stunning little black dress from Felstein’s collection. She said that before any special occasion, she would not hesitate to make the trip to Netanya to check out the designer’s selection of evening wear.

“Instead of bringing my entire range to Beit Shemesh, I’m bringing Beit Shemesh to me,” says business-minded Felstein, who is offering free taxi rides to Netanya for groups of at least eight women, “as long as they end up buying!” Link was determined to have the ladies leave with the feeling of having been pampered. To that end, each woman was given a card entitling her to a free beauty treatment, courtesy of La Belle Beauty Salon in Ramat Beit Shemesh.

The audience seemed to have enjoyed the evening, and it was smiles and praise all round. The LVL staff and volunteers also expressed a sense of achievement and satisfaction. Penina Farkas, administrative manager, remarked, “Seeing everyone come together for children with a whole assortment of life’s challenges is so touching. I am so proud to work in such an amazing place.”

Schapiro, who noted that the evening was LVL’s largest fundraising project to date, said the fashion show had surpassed all her expectations.

“We’re definitely coming again next year.

If there are tickets already on sale, we’ll buy them on the way out , ” enthused Sarah Pushett and Karen Fejbusch from Modi’in.
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