For a woman who spent her Israeli Army service performing for the troops as the lead singer in a band, Naomi Houminer is awfully shy about the spotlight.
By her own admission, the philanthropist and activist had “never, never, ever” agreed to be a guest of honor anywhere before accepting NCJW’s invitation to be recognized at its Israel Benefit Luncheon this June. But as a prominent member of US/Israel Women to Women (W2W) who thinks “it’s fantastic that we joined NCJW” last summer, Naomi is willing to do anything she can to spread “the message that we are all one.”
Naomi’s first foray into women’s empowerment as a philanthropist began when she met Mildred Weissman and Virginia Snitow — two of the original forces behind W2W — in the late 1970s. Mildred and Virginia, who were getting letters about battered women in Israel, wanted to send someone
on a fact-finding mission. Naomi, a Sabra who often returns to Israel, seemed like the perfect choice.
“In those days, no one talked about abused women in Israel,” Naomi says. Although she didn’t intend to get involved, once she saw the facilities for abused women in Jerusalem — “a shambles, with the kids all wailing and the toilets outside” — she knew something had to be done. “So we got Teddy Kollek, the mayor of Jerusalem, to help out by giving us a little house. And we started the first shelter for battered women in the city.”
Naomi smiles. “So that’s how I got sucked into this, and that’s when I started to think about strategic giving,” she says. “Women’s causes are so important, but they tend not to be wellfunded. And while I think that all charitable giving is wonderful, I wanted something I could really sink my teeth into. For me that means women’s causes and women’s empowerment — for women of all creeds.”
One of Naomi’s great satisfactions is seeing “the light in the eyes of women who had no hope before, and the self-respect they’re learning through the self-empowerment programs that NCJW and W2W fund.” Women that were just leaving abusive situations when she first met them are now leaders in their communities. And they, in turn, are lifting up other women.
Helping others comes naturally to Naomi, but she believes that philanthropy can also be taught: “You can definitely learn it,” she says. “It’s our opportunity with NCJW and W2W — our obligation, really — to make people aware that there is need. And if you do give, it will do something: It will help the next generation. And that is very, very important.”