Art for change

The Bread and Roses annual art sale helps society

from the Bread and Roses art sale by Ron Amir and Arik Bokovza. (photo credit: Courtesy)
from the Bread and Roses art sale by Ron Amir and Arik Bokovza.
(photo credit: Courtesy)
If you ask Michal Schwartz about change, she will tell you that it is neither good nor bad, rather both. In her 13 years at the helm of Workers Advice Center (WAC-MAAN), which defends the rights of Arab and Jewish workers on the periphery of the Israeli job market, Schwartz has seen positive and negative strains flow in parallel toward progress. And when it comes to projects aimed at improving the lives of women, such as the Women and Work initiative, which empowers Arab women to find equitable work, steps toward change are weighted in challenges.
“The positive is that women who are educated and have been to school can progress and get to jobs and salary that are good. But women who aren’t educated have it harder,” she explained in a recent interview with The Jerusalem Post. “The conditions in Arab schools are deteriorating and the government is not investing in their improvement. Today there are more women who have to work because poverty is on the rise in the Arab sector.”
Schwartz and her associates are gearing up for the 13th annual Bread and Roses Art Sale, the majority of the proceeds of which go to the Women and Work.
“Jewish and Arab artists participate in the exhibition, donating their work for the cause,” Schwartz explained. “A small part of the money goes back to the artist and the rest goes to empowering Arab women.”
The sale will feature works by well-known as well as emerging Israeli artists and has been curated by artist and WAC-MAAN activist Dani Ben-Simhon. The long list of contributors includes Yair Garbuz, Michal Neeman and Durar Bachri.
For 12 years, the funds raised by Bread and Roses were siphoned into agricultural training for women from the Arab sector, which was the focus of Women and Work. Many of the “graduates” went on to work for Sindyanna of Galilee, a partner organization of WAC-MAAN’s that makes olive oil and other home products. Last year, with the help of the Ministry of Health, Women and Work extended its branches into nursing homes, offering Arab women opportunities to work with the elderly.
But empowering women to work isn’t as simple as providing job training, Schwartz elaborated. It requires a paradigm shift in their approach and the ability to stand up against generations of status quo in which women’s role has traditionally been in the home.
“We see that there is a young generation that gets support but also there is resistance, in the poorer and more traditional homes, especially in older women, because it challenges the patriarchal order and the man’s right to decide about everything,” Schwartz said.
When women do get out to work, often due to acute financial need, they are treated as second-class citizens. “Their work situations are poorly paid and in bad conditions,” Schwartz said. When Schwartz began working with Arab women, she found that those individuals who had succeeded in securing jobs had done so through a middleman. These vocational brokers often ensured that wages were low and conditions bad.
“We started by creating situations for direct employment for women,” Schwartz said.
When they are successful in placing a woman in a suitable job environment, the impact is profound and often immediate.
“The fact that they work and are exposed to Israeli society gives them new ideas about how to build their home lives, not to be stuck in violence or completely under a man’s influence, but that they have the right to create their reality together,” she said.
In the current social and political atmosphere in Israel, in which women are speaking out against violence and harassment in unprecedented ways, Schwartz sees an opportunity to take a critical step forward.
“We believe that to demand from the government another NIS 250,000 million to support victims of violence won’t help,” she said. “What will help will be if Israel starts to invest in social workers, schools and resources for the Arab community. We want to create joint struggles and understanding and a society that looks out for everyone’s progress and doesn’t leave anyone behind.”
The Bread and Roses Art Sale will take place on December 27-29 at the Gallery for Artists’ Workshop, 5 Kalisher Street Tel Aviv. For more information, visit or