Be'er Sheva Dedicates Israel's First 'Socially Conscious Street'

On Ringblum Street, 10 businesses commit to uphold labor laws, offer handicap access and protect the environment.

Israel is getting its first "socially conscious street": Ringblum Street in Be'er Sheva, where 10 businesses all signed an agreement to uphold labor laws, offer handicap access, protect the environment and contribute to the community.

The street, in Be'er Sheva's Dalet neighborhood, will be dedicated next week with a large party.

Eliyahu Hershkovitz

The idea of getting the entire street to sign the Tav Chevrati - social seal - came from two young women: Efrat Vaknin, who uses a wheelchair, and Adar Stern. Both are volunteers for the city's Tav Chevrati project.

Over the past year, they approached all the businesses on the street, and met with social welfare organizations and with the Ben-Gurion University student union.

They also drew the Be'er Sheva municipality into their effort to transform Ringblum Street.

"All the social-welfare organizations we contacted helped," the two stated. "Our objective is to brand the street as socially conscious, and we hope this will send a message. The idea is that we, the consumers, tell business proprietors: We will not enter your business if you do not ensure proper working conditions for your maintenance workers, chefs and waiters."

Two of the businesses on the street employ at-risk youths, and another employs handicapped people.

"The socially-conscious street is a wonderful thing, it unifies the businesses as a group that is concerned about the environment and not only about money," says Idan Ivan, the owner of a sushi restaurant. "Adar and Efrat come to my business every few days and ask the workers about the conditions, about how I treat them. It doesn't bother me. We want to serve as an example for all the businesses in Be'er Sheva and in Israel."

Another person involved in the venture is Matan Yaakov Golan, of the Center for Neighborhood Sustainability.

"Our idea is to integrate the environment, society and an equitable and better economy. We are trying to create a supportive society and an economy that helps society, as opposed to eating away at it. We want all the business owners to think not only about what goes into their pockets, but also about how they can contribute to society," he said.

Vaknin visits Ringblum Street nearly every day. She says her biggest accomplishment is getting the business owners to realize that the venture does not harm them financially, and actually helps them.

"The students and local residents come to the businesses here, and to the street itself, just because of the Tav Chevrati," she says. "This way everyone benefits. Most of the coffee shops and clubs lack handicap access. But the businesses on this street offer access."

Ayelet Stern is a waitress at one of the restaurants on the street.

"It's fun to work at a place that looks after the workers," she says.

Adar Stern says she hopes to turn all of Be'er Sheva into a "big socially-conscious street. We want all Be'er Sheva residents and students to enter all the businesses and ask if they have a Tav Chevrati, and to patronize them only if they do. The seal will serve as a kind of socially-conscious kashrut certificate."