People of Israel: Sarah Simha Benkemoun

I want to find the ideal partner and get married and have kids I can raise as Israelis.

Sarah Simha Benkemoun (photo credit: Courtesy)
Sarah Simha Benkemoun
(photo credit: Courtesy)
The Paris-born Sarah Simha Benkemoun, 34, who is full of joy and energy, works to promote the ideals of Zionism and the love of Israel in the framework of her job at Qualita – an organization dedicated to helping French-speaking immigrants to Israel.
“In France, I was an accountant, but here I wished to make a difference and to help people who come here,” says Benkemoun, who grew up in Paris but says she always loved Israel and wanted to make it her home.
She graduated from the University of Paris-Dauphine where she studied accounting and finance, volunteered as a member of the Limoud France team, and was chosen by the Schusterman Foundation to be a member of its Young Leadership Program, which connects dynamic Jewish leaders around the globe.
Benkemoun defines herself as modern- Orthodox and studied at Neve Yerushalayim, an ultra-Orthodox seminary for women in Israel. She also spent time in various American Jewish communities, including the Chabad community in Brooklyn and a liberal community in Manhattan.
She says she moved to Israel following a wave of antisemitism in France that, she says, began after the 9/11 terrorist attack in New York.
Did you ever think you would make aliyah?
Actually, no, I was sure I would live in America but in time I realized Israel has all that the US has to offer and it’s the place for all Jews.
I suddenly realized that Muslims in France started to become more extreme. One day when I was walking home from the synagogue with friends, Arabs started throwing stones at us. That was a warning trigger and after a few more incidents, especially the Toulouse shooting attack in which seven people were murdered, I realized there was no future in France.
Did you come alone to Israel?
More or less. I have a sister here named Deborah David and a few friends, and of course every day I add more friends to my circle. That’s what’s beautiful in this country – that everyone cares for each other, even the police officers. One day I jay-walked through a red light, which is illegal in Israel, but I was unaware of this. An officer stopped me and gave me a fine. But when he realized I was an olah hadasha (new immigrant) and didn’t know about this law, he took 100 shekels out of his pocket and handed the money to me, saying, “I had to give you a fine because it’s the law, but take the money to pay for it.” Of course I never took the money, but it showed me what Israel really is. In France that would never have happened.
What is Qualita?
Qualita unites under one umbrella over 60 organizations that help French-speaking olim (immigrants) and works together with them to unify and strengthen activities in employment, education and welfare.
It came to our attention recently that there was an elderly gentleman in Ramat Gan whose wife passed away and he no longer had anyone. We recruited volunteers, who come visit him and helped him put on tefillin each morning. It seems like little but to someone who has no one, it’s a lot. Another activity of the organization is in career guidance, and through that, it has assisted over 220 people in finding work.
Do you miss France?
The truth is I miss French fashion. There’s nothing like the French stores, but it’s a small price to pay. In Israel, there’s so much love for the soul, and don’t forget this is our home – so come and help us watch over it and absorb more olim!
What are your future plans?
In my personal life, I want to find the ideal partner and get married and have kids I can raise as Israelis. Also, I would like my parents and brother to make aliya so that my family can be reunited in this holy land. In my work, we have just launched a platform in Qualita to bring together new and old immigrants and Israelis to help and mentor each other. So I hope to see this grow and to develop more governmental support for the incredible organization I work for. By the way, the website for Qualita is