Peace Seeker: Kim Heiman '78
On a recent Monday morning, Kim Morris Heiman ’78 settled down at her desk at Standard Textile Inc., the family business, and girded herself for the week ahead. As senior vice president of the company’s international division, she was particularly worried about the fate of the company’s four plants in the Middle East. Much depended on what would happen politically in that part of the world during the coming days.
In particular, Heiman was hoping the tenuous peace in the Israel/Palestine area would prevail, and the roads leading to the plants (which manufacture textile products for the healthcare and hospitality industries) would not be shut, as they have on occasion in the past.
She was also hoping that the productive working relationship shared by Standard Textile’s employees in Jordan and Israel would set an example for others in the region to follow.
“There’s got to be a way for people to get along,” says Heiman, who runs the business with her husband, Gary. “I’ve already seen it happen in that region, at least on a small scale.” From sewing operators and material handlers up the ladder to distribution personnel and managers, the company’s employees in Israel and Jordan have developed a mutual respect for one another despite their countries’ longtime adversarial positions, she says.
Heiman, who lived in Israel for several years and set up some of the factory operations there, first visited the small country during her junior year at Sarah Lawrence. It was an early experience that set the stage for her later involvement in the Middle East, she recalls. Several years later, Heiman accepted a job with a commodities trading company in Israel. From her Sarah Lawrence days, she knew a few words of Hebrew and Arabic—“at least enough to say pork bellies, and gold and swiss francs, in those languages,” she remembers.
She also thinks about her customers from that period: They were Arabs and Orthodox Jews who often shared sunflower seeds while waiting together by the Reuters feed each day for the latest selling prices—and who, through the wait and the seeds, often befriended each other.
“Because they had a common business bond, they got along,” Heiman explains. “It got me thinking about what I could do in my own small way. There had to be a way to eradicate all those divisions.”
When it comes to having an impact on large-scale concerns like the hoped-for peace between Israel and its neighbors, Heiman says she often turns to Margaret Mead for inspiration. As the sociologist once remarked, never doubt that a small group of concerned people can change the world; indeed, it’s often the only thing that does.
Heiman grew up in Nashville, where as a Jew she was sometimes shunned by fellow students. “I first became aware of some anti-Semitism when I was in third grade,” she says, “and all of the Jewish kids were excluded from the ballroom dancing program. I felt very left out, but my mother said that was just the way things were. Still, it was very difficult to accept that.” (Her mother, Suzanne Jonas Morris ’54, died in 1993.)
Heiman works on several fronts for peace in the Middle East. In addition to running the company’s overseas operations, she is also the immediate past president of the Jewish Federation of Cincinnati, a fundraising and charitable organization that raises about $6 million annually. The mother of two teen-agers, Heiman also supports the peace effort through a family philanthropic organization. Wearing that hat, she was a creator of the Garden of Peace, a biblical garden exhibit at Cincinnati Zoo and Botanical Garden.
In recognition of both her business and humanitarian efforts on behalf of an unstable region, she was recently named a Woman of the Year by The Cincinnati Enquirer.
As Ehud Barak, former Prime Minister of Israel, observed in nominating Heiman for the Enquirer’s Woman of the Year award, she has brought two enemies together, at least for a shared business goal. And that, he said, is a good place to start.