JERUSALEM • For many women, going to get their hair done is an activity that is only partly related to hair at all.
Sure, there is a lot of talk about highlights and split ends, but discussions about the pros and cons of conditioning masks tend to veer off into other realms. Work problems are aired, relationships analysed, life's frustrations admitted and secrets spilled.
And this universal fact of life got Ms Liora Kessel thinking. It was 2003, and she was just about to open the first Women's Courtyard at the intersection of the three poorest neighbourhoods in Jaffa. The idea behind the non-profit initiative was to offer a safe space to any young woman, usually in some sort of distress, who needed somewhere to hang out and just be herself. Coaching and therapy were offered. But more exciting was the free, professional hair salon that the founders added.
With its door propped open, the Courtyard attracts a range of visitors. Jews, Christians and Muslims show up. Gays, straights and transgenders check out the premises. Some are suffering from terrible abuse or other problems. Others have no one at home to talk to.
"At first the girls were trying to figure out what 'the catch' was," says Shani Werner, who runs the Haifa branch of the Women's Courtyard. "But when they slowly realised they weren't being tricked, they relaxed."
There are now four Women's Courtyard branches around the country, and a fashion store in Jaffa where some of the project's members receive training and are employed.
Ms Kessel says that every year the different branches each welcome an average of 300 girls and women between the ages of 13 and 25, with the majority returning regularly. They symbolise everything the Courtyards stand for, starting with respect for the women who come through their doors.
"One's defences go down when sitting there in the salon, looking in the mirror. It's a vulnerable moment," says social worker Avigail Hatzor-Sivan. "We use that moment to wrap these girls in love and care."