Translated No More: Jacqueline Shohet Kahanoff, author of Levantine Identity

Jacqueline’s mother did not allow Arabic to be spoken at home, and Jacqueline “suffered from living in a country where she did not speak its language,” a childhood friend, Diane Jorland, said in an Israeli documentary about Kahanoff.

The upper middle class of Egyptian Judaism, despite their cosmopolitan air, designated limited roles for women. But Kahanoff had higher hopes. She wrote in her essay “The Blue Veil of Progress” that “when I was little, I would be like my grandmother, a kind of Jewish queen.” But now she added: “I want to do things that women do in Europe: be doctors, help the poor, everyone, or maybe be a writer who will find the words, our words, to tell about our lost time.”

At her mother’s request, she married Izzy Margoliash, a Jewish physician of Russian descent, in 1939. The following year, the couple moved to the United States, where he resided. But the marriage was short-lived.

After they divorced, Kahanoff enrolled at Columbia University, where she studied journalism and literature. While there, she became romantically involved with the French anthropologist Claude Lévi-Strauss, whom she considered the greatest love of her life.

In 1946, she was successful when her short story “Such Is Rachel” won second prize in a competition sponsored by The Atlantic. That year she returned to Egypt. But in 1951, bored by the monotony and stagnation of Egyptian society and worried about a creeping nationalism and xenophobia over everything that was not Egyptian, she returned to New York. That year, she published her first novel, “Jacobs Ladder,” a semi-autobiographical depiction of the Jewish elite who lived in Cairo in the early 20th century.

She then lived briefly with her sister in Paris, before marrying Alexander Kahanoff, a businessman, in 1952. They moved to Israel in 1954, first living in an immigrant center in Be’er Sheva and later in Bat Yam. a working-class town. south of Tel Aviv.

Kahanoff had an ambiguous relationship with Zionism. On the one hand, she was attracted by the narrative and the potential of the Jewish people re-establishing their homeland after two millennia of migration, where women, completely liberated, worked shoulder to shoulder with men in the fields and on building plots. On the other hand, she did not like the dogmatic thinking of the Zionists. “The Mizrahis expected a different welcome from their brothers,” she wrote. “They had to adapt to a society they did not get a chance to help with fashion, one where they were considered as raw material that needed to be polished in order to be educated.”

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