18 Aug In Israel with Hava Levene at Neve Michael Childrens Village
November 2019 – At Neve Michael Childrens Village in Pardes Hanna, Israel – Capturing Grace around the world on a 34 day, 8 country, 3 continent trip, photographing for organizations in Thailand, Sri Lanka, Israel and Jordan.
For months I had been looking forward to meeting Hava Levene, CEO of Neve Michael Childrens Village in Pardes Hanna, Israel. Jodi Tucker, my good friend and international director for Orphan Sunday, prepared me for meeting Hava by describing her as a “Jewish Mother Theresa”, Jodi’s words could not have been more accurate.
Neve Michael Childrens Village truly is a haven, serving at-risk children ages 5-18 years old from all over Israel. Some of these children are brought to Neve Michael’s doorstep at a tender age and under traumatic circumstances. Some have suffered mental, physical, and/or sexual abuse. In many cases, the parents of these children are afflicted with a mental illness or drug and alcohol addictions.
This is where the Children’s Village comes in.
The Neve Michael Children’s Village is the only multidisciplinary children’s home in Israel which houses facilities on-site such as Family Homes, a 24-hour Emergency Crisis Center, and the first teen Girls Crisis Center in Israel. Their programs are also on-site, making a daily routine easy to manage.
More importantly, these children come to Neve Michael feeling afraid and alone. Neve Michael provides Family Homes in the children’s village, each consisting of a married couple with their biological children who live with a group of children from the village. They provide a home-like atmosphere for the children, meeting their physical, emotional, therapeutic and educational needs and enabling them to have positive role models as “parents” and to experience living in a family framework.
The housemother or housefather, and National Service girls, are in charge of providing the at-risk children with a functional, daily routine of getting up and ready for school, eating breakfast, making sure they go to the main dining room for a hot lunch, assisting them with their homework, making sure the children go to afternoon extracurricular activities and therapies, preparing dinner and helping them to prepare for bed. I loved going from class to class at Neve Michael, photographing and playing with the children.
During my 24 hours with Hava, what I learned about her work and life was fascinating and deeply moving. Hava’s father, Col. Seymour Pomrenze, was one of the Monument Men from world war II and attended a ceremony at the White House in 2007 where President George W. Bush presented the National Humanities Award to the Monuments Men Foundation for the Preservation of Art. Pomrenze was deservedly recognized for his determined effort to rescue materials, documents, Torah Scrolls and works of art looted by the Nazis and to restore them to their rightful owners.
Hava’s father was born in Brusilov, Ukraine. In 1922, his family immigrated to Chicago. Pomrenze grew up in a heavily Jewish area, attended a Hasidic synagogue, and went to both secular and Hebrew schools. In 1939, while in college, he took a job at the National Archives and Records Administration. Pomrenze joined the United States Army in April 1942, and was commissioned a second lieutenant in April 1943.
In researching Hava’s father I came across a quote from during his service in world war II “one must fight to attain anything worthwhile and I am not discouraged—yet.” Having met Hava, it is clear that her fathers influence has shaped her life.
Hava has served at Neve Michael for over 30 years, she shrugged at the request for an exact number… “it is my life here”. Hava still maintains relationships with holocaust survivors who came to Neva Michael as children, having lost everything and everyone in their lives, Neva Michael is their only family.
As my work at Neve Michael came to a close, Hava pulled me aside and said these words “ I am suppose to tell you something”, taking my pen and little red notebook from me, she said “In Hebrew, we have no word for coincidence, we use this word”, writing it first in Hebrew (מִכְרֶה), and then in english, she wrote the word MIKREH.
“It means HAPPENED BY GOD… there are no coincidences.”
Given my own story of loss, the words that Hava spoke felt prophetic, as if from God. Emotions from deep within my soul produced tears that streamed down l my face. I have never met mother Theresa but I would imagine that she would’ve responded just as Hava did, pulling me in close to her chest, she kissed my cheek and said “just cry, it is so good for you.”
The children here at Neve Michael are in good hands and I am so grateful.
PHOTOGRAPHS FROM MY TIME WITH HAVA LEVENE AT NEVE MICHAEL CHILDRENS VILLAGE
I was delighted to be invited into Hava’s home and visit with her husband and friends over tea. Hanging on Hava’s wall at home is a photo of Rabbi Aryeh Levin, (Hebrew: אריה לוין; March 22, 1885 – March 28, 1969), known as Reb Aryeh, was an Orthodox rabbi dubbed the “Father of Prisoners” for his visits to members of the Jewish underground imprisoned in the Central Prison of Jerusalem in the Russian Compoundduring the British Mandate. He was also known as the “Tzadik (“saint”) of Jerusalem” for his work on behalf of the poor and the sick.
Reb Aryeh was known for his sublime character traits of “humility, kindness, and respect for all. Reb Aryeh was humble toward everyone. He treated everyone he met with love, respect, and dignity. He saw only the good in human beings, even those for whom others rarely had a kind word. Reb Aryeh Levin was perpetually involved with deeds of charity and helping the poor.
My friend and traveling companion Gary Schneider combined forces with Isaac Rudolph and Rebecca Rikhi in a Orphan Sunday community project to serve at Neve Michael Childrens Village.
Neve Michael Childrens Village hosting teachers from Cornell University in New York who come to conduct classes on teaching therapy for children at risk.
From my time with the children and teachers at Neve Michael Childrens Village