In this Haaretz review Sasson Somekh writes approvingly of the work of the late journalist and philosopher Jacqueline Shohet Kahanoff, the 'prophet of the new Levantinism'. (With thanks: Lily)
"Jacqueline Shohet Kahanoff was born in Cairo to a "mixed" family (a father of Iraqi descent and a mother from a Tunisian home). Although she grew up in an "Arab" household, her family did not speak Arabic, and like many Egyptian Jews between the two world wars, Jacqueline did not learn Arabic as a language in which to read and write. Kahanoff attended excellent French-speaking schools in her city, and at home she and her sister had a British nanny who endeavored to improve their English.
"At age 21 she married a doctor and went with him to the United States, where she lived from 1940 to 1951, in Chicago and New York. After a brief stay in Cairo and Paris, and a second marriage, Kahanoff arrived in Israel in 1954. (...)
"Kahanoff's journalistic and philosophical writing in her early years in Israel largely focused on questions concerning the nature of the people that was forming in this land: the ethnic groups, cultures and occupations; the place of women here; the elements that constituted "Israeli culture"; and so on. Occasionally her essays made their way into the local press, but most of them appeared in Jewish American newspapers, which provided her with most of her livelihood. In addition to the names Kahanoff (from her second marriage) and Shohet (her father's surname), in her first years in Israel she used a variety of pseudonyms. She kept to this practice, it seems, as long as her parents were still living in Egypt, for fear that her writing on "delicate" subjects would harm them. (..)
"What impressed Kahanoff's readers at the time was that the term "Levantine,"
as she employed it, was not necessarily a derogatory epithet for the shallow emulation of Western mannerisms. On the contrary: Real Levantinism could be a fertile blend for the emergent Israeli society (and not only for it).
"True, Israeli society's roots were "European," but the hundreds of thousands of immigrants arriving from the "Levant" (the Arab world, Turkey, Persia and so on) had brought with them the potential for what we would now call "multiculturalism," a disparate society that can be united by its diversity.
"This had been the case during Kahanoff's childhood in Egypt, where she had fraternized with Jews, Muslims and Christians, Egyptians and Europeans - all of whom, according to her, fit together in an idyllic harmony. Furthermore, since Israel was surrounded by Arab countries, the emerging "Levantine" Israeli culture would eventually become a way to connect with the country's Arab environment without provoking radical antagonism."
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