99 selfless years: Miriam Levy-Hevrony’s story

Three generations of residents of Zichron marveled at her amazing energy, selflessness and values.

Zichron Yaakov synagogue (photo credit: (American Colony-Jerusalem-Photo Dept.))
Zichron Yaakov synagogue
(photo credit: (American Colony-Jerusalem-Photo Dept.))
Zichron Ya’acov mourns the loss of an amazing woman this month (d. August 6), who was recognized in 2003 as its citizen of honor. Miriam Levy-Hevrony was born in 1913 in Utmah, a village in southern Yemen. When she was two years old, her mother Zohara died and her father sent her to his childless sister, an arrangement that would later prove to be successful.
Miriam returned home; her aunt left Yemen, settling in Zichron Ya’acov. Her family consisted of her father, his other wife, their five children, the orphaned Miriam and her brother Shalom (b. 1912). In 1924, they all made aliya, settling in Hadera, although Miriam was again sent to live with her paternal aunt.
The first Yemenites arrived in Zichron Ya’acov in 1913-1914 as replacements for Arab workers, encountering extremely difficult conditions. Nevertheless they set up a Talmud Torah, employing their own mori (teacher), Yefet ben Yefet.
These schools emphasized Torah-reading and recitation of the accompanying Aramaic translation of the weekly portion by all the boys. However, because 11-yearold Miriam was determined to take advantage of this opportunity to achieve literacy, she appeared there daily until the mori relented, allowing her to learn.
When the Mizrahi movement sought to innovate in 1926, it appointed a secular studies teacher, but the Yemenites insisted on maintaining their own framework. A photograph of this class includes their mori, the Ashkenazi teacher, six boys and eight girls! By this time, 13-year-old Miriam could read and write Hebrew and read Torah, an extraordinary accomplishment for any Yemenite woman.
Miriam took various jobs such as working at the Beit Daniel Hotel, mainly housekeeping, and caring for toddlers at home. She sent money to help her brother Shalom during his studies at the Lifshitz Seminary in Jerusalem. Although located in Hadera and later in Tel Aviv, her father was concerned about her future.
Letters record the tension between him and her mori regarding the choice of an appropriate groom. The mori wanted her for his son; her father preferred Meshullam Levy-Hevrony. He knew the family from Yemen prior to their arrival in Zichron in 1914; he was convinced that “they respect their women and satisfy them!”
Miriam, now 20, married the quiet 28- year-old worker who would later manage the agricultural staff of Beit Aharonson. The couple lived in a small room with Meshullam’s parents, while Miriam helped support her adoptive parents, her aunt and uncle, for the rest of their lives.
Education was her top priority. Her firstborn, Pinhas, was deaf and mute; the only school in which he could learn to read, write and talk was in Jerusalem. She scrimped and saved for tuition, room and board to enable him to attend. She later convinced a carpenter to train him so that he would be independent.
Her second son, Amatzia, attended the local Talmud Torah followed by six years in Jerusalem at the Lifshitz high school and seminary. She and her husband could barely afford tuition and payments for a tiny, moldy room, but she was determined that he not be a manual laborer. Like her brother, he became a school principal (of the Yehuda Halevi School in Jerusalem for 25 years).
One of her daughters, Sara, studied in Hadera, then attended nursing school; she later ran the Omen day care center (Emunah) in Jerusalem. Her other daughter, Malka, studied at the Efrata teachers’ seminary in Jerusalem for six years, becoming a kindergarten teacher. These two were among the few Yemenite girls in Zichron who attended high school rather working after elementary school.
The younger boys also attended religious schools in various locales. Miriam managed without help at home, living frugally; her goal was to provide education for her children. No one knows how she managed to pay for all of them!
While working to support seven children, in-laws and adoptive parents, she singlehandedly served as an unpaid social worker and community organizer.
The less fortunate residents became accustomed to seeing Miriam appearing on their doorstep, washing clothes for the homeless, feeding the poor, collecting money for the needy, visiting the home-bound, running to do what she deemed necessary. New immigrants were convinced that she represented the Jewish Agency.
Three generations of residents of Zichron marveled at her amazing energy, selflessness and values. After 99 years, Miriam Levy-Hevrony can rest, having lived a remarkable life.
The author is a professor of Jewish history and outgoing dean at the Schechter Institute as well as academic editor of the journal Nashim. She has published books and articles on Sephardi and Oriental Jewry and on Jewish women.