Federation Women’s Luncheon honors new milestone givers

by | Nov 20, 2015 | Other News

Carin Simon, New Tikva Honey Maizel, Joan Joffe, Leslie Siegel, Jodi Klebanoff, Sarah Benkmoun (guest speaker), New Ruby Lion Charlene Cohen, Ann Copeland, Deb Segaloff, Hilde Deutsch, and Ilana Benson.

Carin Simon, New Tikva Honey Maizel, Joan Joffe, Leslie Siegel, Jodi Klebanoff, Sarah Benkmoun (guest speaker), New Ruby Lion Charlene Cohen, Ann Copeland, Deb Segaloff, Hilde Deutsch, and Ilana Benson.

The Women’s Division of the UJFT held its annual Lion Tikva Chai Luncheon on Wednesday, Oct. 28 at the Sandler Family Campus.

Guest Speaker Sarah Simha Benkemoun shared her personal Aliyah story with the luncheon participants, explaining her reasons for leaving France and making her new home in Israel. Hers was truly a joyous aliyah. Growing up in France, Benkemoun experienced an idyllic childhood in her tight-knit Jewish community on the outskirts of Paris. Her parents made sure she had a Jewish education, took her and her siblings to synagogue every Shabbat, and kept a kosher home. As she grew older, Benkemoun became involved in Jewish programs and travelled to Israel several times. She went to college in France and graduated with a degree in economics. She earned a CPA and began working for PricewaterhouseCoopers. Over time, as Benkemoun began to think more seriously about her future, she “started to realize,” she said, “that France was not my future; nor was it my past. The story of France is not the story I share with the Jewish people.” So, Benkemoun began to make plans. All the while, she was becoming more and more involved as a volunteer in Jewish organizations, including Limmud France, Moishe House, and later the ROI Community (a Charles and Lynn Schusterman Family Foundation initiative). Here she found her passion and her direction.

Benkemoun looked at today’s Israel—a new nation replete with possibilities for bright, creative, and passionate people—“ Start-Up Nation” Israel whose people came from across the globe, converging in a place and time that would nurture their ideas and provide encouragement for the risks that only passionate people dare to take. “This is where my future lies,” said Benkemoun. And so she called the Jewish Agency and told them she wanted to make Aliyah. As the oneyear anniversary of her new citizenship approaches, Benkemoun is more enthusiastic than ever about Israel. She’s found her past, her future and her home.

In her remarks (as well as discussions she held with other groups while in Tidewater, including the Federation’s Israel & Overseas Committee and alumni of the Young Adult Division’s “Hineni” program), Benkemoun touched only obliquely on the situation in Europe (and especially in France) with rising anti-Semitism and anti-Israel sentiment. She told of walking home from synagogue on a Shabbat afternoon with friends, when a group of teenaged boys began to throw rocks at them and shout anti-Semitic epithets. When asked by a luncheon participant: “How did you live like that?” Benkemoun reluctantly responded: “As hard as it is to say…you get used to it.”

But Benkemoun insists that the rising anti-Semitism in France was not the motivating forces behind her Aliyah (although she agrees that it is a driving force for many other French Jews, and the numbers from the Jewish Agency bear that out, as aliyah from has France doubled and doubled again over the past three years – experiencing a particular spike in the wake of the Charlie Hebdo terrorist incident).

“I wanted to live my Judaism 100%,” Benkemoun explained. “Religiously, spiritually, professionally…. Israel was the one place in the world that could provide me with everything I was looking for.” She also pointed out that Israel, as the young nation it is, offers endless opportunities for those who seek them. She compared today’s Israel with the United States in the first half of the 20th century—“Israel is the new melting pot,” she says. “Jews are coming from all over the world to make Israel their home and to carve out a future for themselves and for the Jewish nation.”

Benkemoun’s story was one that American donors don’t often have an opportunity to hear—an aliyah of joy and passion…not one necessitated by war or civil unrest in countries where being a Jew means being at-risk. Her youthful enthusiasm was contagious, and the Lions, Tikvas and Chais at the luncheon enjoyed meeting and hearing from her.

The luncheon also introduced and honored the community’s newest milestone givers in the UJFT Women’s Division. Luncheon co-chair Jodi Klebanoff (speaking on behalf of herself, her co-chair Laura Gross, and the rest of the women’s division) announced the names of the women, who’d reached milestone giving levels since last year’s luncheon (see page 32)

Women’s Cabinet Chair Stephanie Calliott closed the meeting with thanks to all for coming, thanks to the chairs and federation staff, and thanks to Black Iris Floral Events (for donating the beautiful linens and floral centerpieces which transformed the room). Finally, she extended heartfelt thanks to all of the women in the community who make the gifts that make a difference in the lives of Jews at home and around the world.

The UJFT women’s division will hold a series of outreach and engagement events throughout the campaign year. The first will take place on Thursday, Dec. 3 at noon at the Sandler Family Campus. All women in the Jewish community are invited to a lunch-n-learn with special guest Viva Sarah Press. Press is an associate editor, journalist and video producer at ISRAEL21c.org and is the host, writer and editor of a weekly radio talk show on Israeli ingenuity and innovations. Press is well-connected to the high-tech and startup scene in Israel, and has interviewed dozens of CEOs, CTOs, innovators, creators, and risk-takers. Press’ topic will be: “Israel at the Forefront of Health Innovations.” For more information or to attend this event, call or email Patty Malone at the UJFT at 965-6115 or pmalone@ujft.org.

by Amy Zelenka, Women’s campaign director