An Israeli man originally from London has opened a charity shop with a difference in Tel Aviv, aimed at dismantling the stigma against people who are HIV positive.
Sa’ar Maoz, 41, runs The Positive Store on behalf of the charity Israel AIDS Task Force. It opened last week at the Dizengoff Centre in Tel Aviv.
The pop-up store sells second-hand goods donated by people who are HIV positive. Its aim is to lower the stigma associated with people who have HIV, especially the fear that contact with them leads to infection.
Explaining how the concept came about, Maoz says, “We started considering a campaign for World Aids Day and we thought ‘how can we reach out to people?’ We wanted to inform people on what they don’t understand about HIV.”
With help from copywriter Kobi Cohen of ad agency Grey Tel Aviv, the Task Force came up with The Positive Store.
“HIV positive people donate items. The public can come and see and touch, and maybe find out what it’s like. By doing this they realise, it’s the same t-shirt, the same pair of socks, we are all the same,” Maoz explains.
The interest from members of the HIV positive community was palpable. “We received dozens of bags full of clothes, from sportswear to designer brands, and several other home appliances. The response was really moving,” says Maoz
Hundreds of items were sold in the first few days, and over the weekend the store had over 1,000 visitors. Prices are nominal, between 10 and 60 shekels and all proceeds go to fund the activites of the Task Force.
The concept is more than just a shop, Maoz explains, “It turned into a place where for a whole week, people could come and talk about HIV. A place to come in and say ‘I’m not afraid’.”
Every item at The Positive Store is labeled with a tag bearing a link to a website, thepositivestore.co.il, featuring some of the people whose objects are sold at the shop, who are living with HIV in Israel.
Maoz was born on a kibbutz but spent nearly 20 years living in west London before returning to Israel last year. He was diagnosed with HIV 11 years ago.
He says HIV and AIDS have more stigma in Israel than in the UK. “There is real ignorance. Some insurance is not available. GPs refuse to see you. Employers might dismiss you if you disclose your status.
“The only thing I got in the UK when disclosing my status was a hug and a ‘how can we help?’ In Tel Aviv we still find it necessary to create HIV-positive parties because it’s the only place they really feel safe. I would never have gone to the same thing in the UK. It was a non-issue.”
The Positive Store is a pop-up project, and will close soon. “We don’t have the finances for the long haul,” says Maoz. He promises something ‘new and fresh’ in the coming new year. Of the shop he says, “maybe someone will want to pick it up and run with it.”
The Task Force, however, will still have its work cut out. Nissan Shtrauchler, a colleague of Maoz says, “In a time when HIV positive people work as doctors and save people’s lives, serve in the army, have HIV negative children, and have normal lives, every person must learn how HIV is transmitted, and how it isn’t”.
“We need to not only prevent further transmission of the virus, but also prevent unnecessary stigmas that are rooted in ignorance.”