Karen Ruimy


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Karen Ruimy biography

Karen Ruimy has a glint in her eye. “Sometimes,” she says with a smile, “I’m bit afraid of myself. I look at my past, sometimes I think I was crazy… leaving a million dollar job… but I have something that is like a strong force in me, and when I feel it I just go for it.” If ever proof were needed that a woman can do anything she puts her mind to – Karen Ruimy is it. Moving between parallel careers to follow her passions – for writing, for music and dance, for the rights of women in the developing world – she is able to find common threads in the seemingly disparate areas of her life; she is also powerfully aware that privilege brings with it responsibility. Meeting her might be daunting – instead, it’s exciting, fun, even empowering. Karen was born in Morocco, in Casablanca. I can’t help but react when she says it, and she laughs: “So mythical! Each time I say Casablanca in England or America, people jump!” She was one of four children in a “big, traditional family, and it was a lovely childhood, in the sun, a very easy life.” When she was seven, the family moved to Paris – partly because of the political situation at home, and partly to further the children’s education. Karen remains “very close to the soul and spirit of Morocco” where she and her husband are establishing a museum of photography, and still visits regularly. “For me it’s very luxurious in terms of nature and culture. The people are so nice and so welcoming. And the music! The country in itself is gorgeous – it has the Atlantic coast, the Mediterranean and then the Sahara. The culture is also a mix: Arabs, Berbers, Jews. Art. That mix inflects everything – clothing, food, architecture.” What was it like for a young girl to suddenly find herself transplanted into one of the world’s most sophisticated cities? “Paris was a big dream for me,” she remembers. “I was very happy. When you live in Morocco everything is sweet but not fun – Paris is wonderful for the young, for art.” But it was tough. Karen always spoke French, but had grown up Jewish in a largely Arabic country. It was a heady cultural mix. The French, I suggest, have progressive ideas about art, but aren’t so welcoming of those different to themselves. She had moved from a very “outward culture to a very inward one, very” – as she puts it brilliantly – “policed.” “I suffered a lot. My god! When I was a child I suffered because I was not a proper little French girl, I was a Jew, and I was from Morocco. It is tough in France, because when you’re different, you have to fight twice as hard. I was fighting really hard. It triggered that thing in me. If they weren’t going to accept me, I was really going to fight. I really wanted the laurels, and was dedicated to becoming a good student.” Her hard work paid off she won an MBA from the Grande Ecole, and went on to work in banking and, later, the bond market. It was hard, hugely competitive, and – of course – incredibly male. But the rewards were great, and Karen is not the kind of woman who baulks at a challenge. “The more I’m in trouble, the more I fight. It’s my soul, it’s the way I am.” Despite her considerable success, she wasn’t happy and, after seven years, she began looking elsewhere. “I became the black sheep. What was I doing? Because I was also on a spiritual quest, people thought I was crazy, that I was joining a sect or something! I really wanted to stop, and write and read and meet brilliant people who were in different worlds. And be inspired. So that’s what I did.”

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