February 27, 2020

Naama Haviv: A Passion for Feeding the Underserved

When Naama Haviv joined the staff of MAZON: A Jewish Response to Hunger, she finally found what she’d been searching for.

“It turned out I should have been working on hunger [issues] my whole life, because food is the absolute center of my life anyway and my personal life,” she said. “I love to cook. I love to feed my family and friends. It’s how I show love. It’s how I speak the language of who I am and where I come from to my family and community.”

Throughout her life, Haviv has worked to help those less fortunate, whether working to combat genocide, aiding sexual assault victims in Africa or advocating for those without access to healthy food in America and Israel.

The granddaughter of Holocaust survivors, Haviv earned her graduate degree in genocide studies at Clark University in Massachusetts. 

“I’m a huge hit at parties,” she said.

After college, she landed a job at the L.A.-based Jewish World Watch, which draws on Jewish values in its advocacy on behalf of victims of genocide. Haviv said her mother, more than anyone, was shocked Haviv was able to put her degree to professional use. 

“Working and learning from [JWW’s co-founders] Janice Kamenir-Reznik and [the late] Rabbi [Harold] Schulweis was one of the great privileges of my life,” she said. “Both are amazing thinkers and doers. I think if I had grown up with a rabbi in my life like Rabbi Schulweis, I would have been more active in my Judaism.”

“Working and learning from [Jewish World Watch’s co-founders] Janice Kamenir-Reznik and [the late] Rabbi [Harold] Schulweis was one of the great privileges of my life.” 

After JWW, Haviv ran the U.S-based Panizi Foundation, the nonprofit that supports literacy, vocational and child-care programs at Panzi Hospital in Bukavu in the Democratic Republic of Congo, which was founded by Nobel laureate and gynecologist Dr. Denis Mukwege and supports sexual assault victims and pregnant women. 

Realizing there was plenty of work to do supporting the disenfranchised in her home country, she came home and took a job with MAZON, which works to bring more healthy nutrition options to neighborhoods dubbed “food deserts,” among other goals.

Now the director of development at MAZON, Haviv said her 10-year-old daughter is just as passionate as Haviv was when she was a little girl about changing the world.

Haviv also serves on the PTA at her daughter’s Title 1 school. Because a large population of the students is low income, fundraising from outside the school population is necessary, she said.

A critic of the current U.S. President, Haviv said she handles the stressful news cycle by cooking. She draws on her grandparents’ recipes — Austrian  on one side and Yemenite on the other — in the meals she cooks for friends, family and coworkers. This, coupled with canning jams, pickles — “anything that can be put in a jar” — helps her gets through the challenging days.

Despite her skills in the kitchen, she said she would not be the best person to have around if the world ends.

“If there is an apocalypse, I am not going to make it,” she said. “It’s not that I can’t run, it’s that I won’t. I don’t have marketable skills for the apocalypse.”

Correction: A previous version of this article incorrectly stated that Haviv worked at the Panzi Foundation in the Democratic Republic of Congo. 

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