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Finding Love and The Promised Land at Ulpan Etzion

editor - 14 February 2018

By Nathan Roi – Jewish Agency For Israel (JAFI).. “I am my beloved’s, and my beloved is mine”– Song of Songs Chapter 6:3. They couldn’t communicate until they each learned Hebrew. Now they are getting married. Yankel Benabou, age 30, immigrated to Israel from France. His parents live in Marseilles; his father is originally from Casablanca and his mother is from Tunisia.

Benabou enrolled at Ulpan Etzion in Jerusalem – a program of intensive Hebrew study – and enrolled at level 3. But he couldn’t help but notice Sasha Pomerantz, age 25 from Russia, in the level 1 class.

“We fell in love in the halls of Ulpan Etzion in Jerusalem,” Sasha explains.

Ulpan Etzion is a residential Hebrew study program for young immigrants to Israel. The program, founded by The Jewish Agency in 1949, offers intensive Hebrew study for olim from all over the world who hold college degrees. New immigrants live on one of three campuses, which serve as their first home in their new country as they study Hebrew and get ready to start their new lives.

“I saw her without talking to her, because she spoke Russian,” Yankel says. “She was with her friends who immigrated from Russia. But as I saw her from a distance, I remember thinking – this is a mysterious woman. My friends from France said she was cute, but I didn’t say anything. I knew she was the woman I wanted to meet.”

Sasha recalls their first encounter at the Ulpan. “My study partner at the Ulpan was this French guy, who turned out to be Yankel’s roommate. He was sitting near Yankel one day, and I said hi to him. Then I asked Yankel for a cigarette – unfortunately, I smoke. When I saw Yankel, I asked myself: ‘why didn’t I notice you before?’”

“He said he could help me learn Hebrew, because he was on level 3 and I was in level 1” Sasha recalls. “We exchanged phone numbers.”

Yankel adds, “I offered to help her with Hebrew just as an excuse to get her phone number.” He smiles.
Last Valentine’s Day was their first date. They went to a concert at a Jerusalem club called the Yellow Submarine.

“A few months after we started dating, it was a bit hard for me to believe that he was so good, and I asked him: What do you want from me?” Sasha recalls.

Yankel responds: “I said I want to marry and raise a family in our new country, the Land of Israel and that this is a common challenge for both of us, which we will succeed in with God’s help.”

Sasha adds: “It was not a simple challenge: all his friends come from France, they do not speak Hebrew and are in a group where none of them speak the language I understand. Yankel helped me a lot and encouraged me.”

Sasha said yes.

“I told her from the very first moment that we should start concentrating on the horizon, in the future, and obviously we will be proud of ourselves,” Yankel says. “From here we can only grow together.”

In the 2016-2017 program year, Ulpan Etzion provided Hebrew-language study and accommodation for 1,500 immigrant men and women aged 22-35, from nearly 30 countries around the world. Campuses are located at the Beit Canada Absorption Center in Jerusalem, in Haifa, in Ra’anana, Kibbutz Tzuba and Beer Sheva.

Sasha and Yankel have visited each other’s parents in France and Russia. And the wedding invitation has already been designed and printed – they are very excited.

Congratulations Yankel and Sasha! We know that Valentine’s Day and Hebrew will always be special for you. From all of us at The Jewish Agency for Israel, we wish you only success and joy. Mazal tov!

Please support the “First Home in the Homeland” Project. Any amount is welcome!
Assisting a family in the “First Home” program costs € 230 euro / US $ 250 a month.

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