Sephardic Women's Voices


Out of North Africa

Nina B. Lichtenstein

"All the authors included in this study express at some point in their writing an awareness and sorrow for not being able to visit their ancestors’ graves, or live near the final resting place of a loved one. A sense of having been forced to leave behind crucial emotional links to their past such as these may indeed be one of the central catalysts for turning to writing. Nine Moati, Gisèle Halimi, Annie Cohen, Chochana Boukobzha, Paule Darmon, Annie Fitoussie and finally Hélène Cixous all find great inspiration in inscribing their relatives’ pasts into their own life-work and thus being able to elaborate and define their own identity as linked to their North African ancestors." -- Nina B. Lichtenstein

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This is a groundbreaking work which brings to the attention of the English-reading public the important creative work of Jewish women authors of North African origin in France since decolonization. Nina Lichtenstein masterfully provides valuable historical background and cultural contextualization together with insightful literary analysis. Her engaging and often lyric style is at once both intimately conversational and academically intellectual.
— Norman A. Stillman, Schusterman-Josey Professor of Judaic History Emeritus, University of Oklahoma. Author of The Jews of Arab Lands and Jews in Arab Lands in Modern Times.

Nina Lichtenstein’s book should be required reading in all Modern Jewish History courses because it fills the gap created by our almost exclusive emphasis on Ashkenazi history...A masterpiece!
— Shulamit Reinharz, Jacob Potofsky Professor of Sociology and Founder/Director Hadassah-Brandeis Institute and the Women’s Studies Research Center, Brandeis University. Author of One Hundred Years of Kibbutz Life and twelve other books.

Engaging issues of exodus, marginality, memory and identity, she uncovers historical and fictional worlds for the English-speaking reader...A timely and necessary work.
— Edna Aizenberg, Professor Emeritus of Hispanic Studies, Marymount Manhattan College. Coeditor of Contemporary Sephardic Identity in the Americas.

The Jewish women’s voices we hear in this book, full of sensitive insights and delicate analysis, offer a staggering array of hybrid memories of migrations, displacements, and exiles from North Africa.
— Yolande Cohen, FRSC (fellow of the Royal Society of Canada) Historian, Université du Québec, Montréal, Canada, author of Femmes Philanthropes.

It is almost a miracle that the voices of Sephardi Jews can still be heard today, having been rendered inaudible, with the passage of time, by colonizers, Maghreb or Mashreq nationalists, Ashkenazi Jews and French supporters of republican integration…Nina B. Lichtenstein has done this with talent and sensitivity. — Karim Miské, director of Jews and Muslims: Intimate Strangers and author of Arab Jazz

Nina Lichtenstein captures the vibrant voices of Jewish women writers who have lived in Muslim societies, revealing a completely different perspective that has little in common with the lives of the Eurocentric Ashkenazi narrative.
— Gina Bublil Waldman, Co-founder and President of JIMENA (Jews Indigenous to the Middle East and North Africa).


ISBN 9781935604884. Paper. 268 pages. $24.95

Nina B. Lichtenstein is a writer, teacher, blogger and public speaker. A native of Oslo, Norway, she received her Ph.D. in French literature from the University of Connecticut, where she currently teaches literature and writing. She is also a Research Associate at the Hadassah Brandeis Institute at Brandeis University. She has recently translated a novel into English by the Jewish French-Tunisian writer Chochana Boukhobza, and her research interests and publications concern literature and film by and about Francophone Jewish women from North Africa, Sephardic Jews and the Holocaust, and Jews from Islamic Lands in general.

For More Information Go To Nina B. Lichtenstein's website.


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Nina B. Lichtenstein

Table of Contents

Part I: Historical Context
The Jews of the Maghreb: Belonging and Marginalization
Chapter 1. The Narrative of Loss 23
i. Recapturing Sephardic History in the Maghreb 26
ii. Jewish Women in the Historical Context 39
Chapter 2. The Jews in Colonial Maghreb: Between a Rock and a Hard Place 45
i. Cultural and Social Change 47
ii. The Loss of Language and Amnesia 60
iii. A New Schism 72

Part II: Literary Considerations
Chapter 3. History and Writing 79
i. Vanishing Bodies and Voices; Repressed Identities 79
ii. Aliyah or Yeridah? The Israel Experience 83
iii. Arriving in the Land of Liberté, Egalité and Fraternité 88
iv. Eclipsed Narratives 90
v. What Makes Literature Jewish? 97
Chapter 4. The Sephardic Woman and Post-colonial Discourse 101
i. Theoretical and Literary Reflections 101
ii. Diasporic Voices 109
iii. Language Matters and Sephardic Literature 115
iv. Modes of Narrating Personal Experience 122
v. On Loss and Memory 129
vi. The Role of Jewish Women Voices 132
vii. A Unique Point of View: Sephardic Women in France 136
viii. Where Do They Fit In? Issues of Classification 140

Part III: Voices
Chapter 5. Mothers, Fathers and Rabbis: Sephardic Traces in Writing
Memory and Identity 147
i. Woman as Mother, Woman as Daughter: Annie Cohen, Nine Moati and Gisèle Halimi 150
ii. A Mother to Contend With in Gisèle Halimi’s Fritna 154
iii. Lyrical Memories of a Sephardic Mother in Annie Cohen’s
Bésame Mucho 164
iii. Sephardic Transmission in Birth and Death in Nine Moati’s
Mon Enfant, Ma Mère 175
Chapter 6. Phantom Rabbis and Marabouts: Catalysts of Memory and
Nostalgia in the Texts of Annie Cohen and Annie Fitoussie 185
i. The Wisdom of the Fool in Annie Fitoussi’s
La mémoire folle de Mouchi Rabbinou 187
ii. Faucets Unplugged in Annie Cohen’s Le Marabout de Blida 199
Chapter 7. Rebels with a Cause: Fathers and Daughters
in Narratives by Paule Darmon and Chochana Boukhobza 211
i. Cultural Clashes In and Out of the Family
in Paule Darmon’s Baisse les Yeux, Sarah 212
ii. Beyond Personal Confession:
Chochana Boukhobza and Un Eté à Jérusalem 228

Conclusion 239
Bibliography 247
Films and Websites 260
About the Author 261
Index 263


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