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Chabat, Alain

(583 words)

Author(s): Dinah Assouline Stillman
The French actor, comedian, and film-maker Alain Chabatwas born in 1958 in Oran, Algeria. His family settled in France in 1963 and lived in Massy, a suburb of Paris. Following a tumultuous passage in diverse French schools, Chabat began his career as a humorist-journalist on France-Inter and Radio Monte Carlo (RMC) from 1980 to 1984. He then moved to the new French cable TV channel Canal+ as a comic weather man. With three other comedians, he founded the famous Les Nuls (The Zeros) program on the same channel, called Objectif: Nuls, followed by Nulle Part Ailleurs (Nowhere Else), and fina…

Elmaleh, Gad

(909 words)

Author(s): Dinah Assouline Stillman
Gad Elmaleh was born in Casablanca, Morocco on April 19, 1971.  Having been expelled from several French schools at home, at the age of 16, he went to study at the École Maïmonide in  Montreal, Quebec.  He was inspired and encouraged to pursue his passion for the stage while still in school, and played in a Judeo-Arabic adaptation in of Moliere’s Le Malade imaginaire for La Quinzaine Sepharade, an annual cultural event in Montreal.  At 21, he decided to embrace theater studies in Paris.  After graduating from the prestigious Cours Florent drama school, he s…
Date: 2016-10-17

Bénabou, Marcel

(533 words)

Author(s): Dinah Assouline Stillman
The French historian and writer Marcel Bénabou was born in Meknès, Morocco, on June 29, 1939, to an observant Sephardi family. A brilliant student at the Alliance Israélite Universelle school, he left Morocco and religious practice in 1956 to study in Paris and was a student at the prestigious Ecole Normale Supérieure. He later became a professor of ancient history at the University of Paris7—Denis Diderot and authored a number of scholarly works, most notably La résistance africaine à la romanisatio n (1976). In addition to his academic career, Bénabou is also a novelist and …

Hanoun, Marcel

(881 words)

Author(s): Dinah Assouline Stillman
The film director Marcel Hanoun was born in Tunisia on October 26, 1929, moved to France just after World War II, and died in Créteil, France, on September 22, 2012. In the 1950s in Paris, he was fascinated by photography, cinema, and theater, and studied aeronautical engineering. Working as a photographer and journalist, he was awarded the Grand Prix de l’Eurovision in Cannes in 1959 for his first feature-length movie, Une Simple Histoire. Jean-Luc Godard, who admired Hanoun’s revolutionary aesthetic choices, often sponsored his low-budget productions. After completing Le Huitième…

Abécassis, Armand

(888 words)

Author(s): Dinah Assouline Stillman
Armand Abécassis is a Moroccan-born French Judaic scholar and Bible commentator, and professor emeritus of comparative philosophy at the University Michel de Montaigne in Bordeaux. He is the father of Eliette Abécassis, with whom he co-published Le Livre des passeurs. His novel Rue des Synagogues retraces his childhood and growing up in Morocco. Armand Abécassis, renowned French philosopher, Bible scholar and commentator, and interpreter of Judaism, was born April 4, 1933 in Casablanca, Morocco. He completed his education at the School of Young Je…

Abécassis, Eliette

(1,059 words)

Author(s): Dinah Assouline Stillman
Eliette Abécassis is a French writer of Moroccan heritage. Her works differ considerably in theme and content, from her Qumran trilogy, a widely translated “theological thriller,” to provocative stories set in an Orthodox Jewish milieu, like La répudiée. Her novels Un heureux événement, Une affaire conjugale, and Sepharad are in part autobiographical. The recipient of both the Prix des Ecrivains croyants and the Prix Alberto Benveniste, she has, in addition to her fiction, co-written film scenarios, one adapted from one of her novels, and directed two short movies. Eliette Abécassi…

Bruel, Patrick

(842 words)

Author(s): Dinah Assouline Stillman
Patrick Bruel (né Benguigui), born May 14, 1959 in Tlemcen, Algeria, is a French actor, singer, and human rights activist. He grew up in France, where his family settled when Algeria became independent, and after his parents divorced was greatly influenced by the secular and leftist leanings of his mother’s male relatives. Bruel actively supported the anti-racist organization SOS Racisme from its inception in 1984 and was an outspoken opponent of the extreme right-wing Front National. In his aut…

Boujenah, Michel

(530 words)

Author(s): Dinah Assouline Stillman
Michel Boujenah was born in Tunis on November 2, 1952. His family left Tunisia for France in 1963 and lived in the outskirts of Paris. Michel suffered from nostalgia for his native country. At the age of fifteen, discovering the power of drama while attending the École Alsacienne in Paris, he decided to become an actor. Unable to enter a prestigious drama school because of his heavy Tunisian accent, he formed his own children’s theater troupe, La grande cuillère (The Big Spoon). Over the next six years, writing all of the troupe’s shows himself, he discovered the thrill…

Lévy, Benny

(901 words)

Author(s): Dinah Assouline Stillman
Benny Lévy was a French intellectual, essayist, philosopher, and professor at the Sorbonne (Paris VII), best known in France as one of the founders of a Maoist movement in 1968 and for having been secretary to Jean-Paul Sartre from 1973 until the latter’s death in 1980. His trajectory took him from radical politics to Western philosophy to Orthodox Judaism, and ultimately aliya to Israel, where he taught philosophy and in 2000, together with two other French Jewish philosophers, Bernard-Henri Lé…

Bacri, Roland

(410 words)

Author(s): Dinah Assouline Stillman
Roland Bacri, one of France’s leading political satirists, was born on April 1, 1926 in the Bab-El-Oued quarter of Algiers. At the age of thirty, after having contributed to the Canard Sauvage in Algiers for several years, he was invited to Paris to join the staff of  Le Canard enchaîné, a weekly satirical magazine devoted to politics. He worked there for almost forty years, often using the pseudonyms Roro de Bab-El-Oued and Le petit poète. A prolific writer, Bacri published many books and wrote poetry abounding with puns and calembours (wordplays) on political or cultural topics of…

Attali, Jacques

(594 words)

Author(s): Dinah Assouline Stillman
Jacques Attali, an eminent French economic theorist and intellectual, was born November 1, 1943, in Algiers.  He attended and was a brilliant student at several prestigious French Grandes Ecoles, among them Ecole Polytechnique and Ecole Nationale d’Administration which produce many of the leading figures in France’s political elite.  Attali first became known in French politics as the special adviser to President François Mitterrand from 1981 to 1991. In 1991, he founded and became first Preside…
Date: 2016-10-14

Haddad, Hubert Abraham

(847 words)

Author(s): Dinah Assouline Stillman
Hubert Abraham Haddad, a noted poet, novelist, essayist, and playwright, as well as an art historian and painter, was born in Tunis on March 10, 1947 and accompanied his parents into exile in France at the age of five. One of his novels, Le Camp du bandit mauresque (The Camp of the Moorish Bandit, 2005), describes their drab existence in the poor neighborhoods of Paris and its suburbs and his search for identity. Years later, speaking in an interview of his Judeo-Berber heritage and his Tunisian-French identity, he said: “There can only be h…

Bacri, Jean-Pierre

(433 words)

Author(s): Dinah Assouline Stillman
Jean-Pierre Bacriwas born in Castiglione (now Bou Ismail), Algeria, on May 24, 1951. His passion for cinema started early in childhood; his father worked in a movie theater on weekends. His family immigrated to Cannes, France, in 1962. He studied Latin and French literature at the university, intending to become a teacher of French literature and classics, but eventually left for Paris to write instead, while taking acting classes at the famous Cours Simon. Bacri wrote several plays, and received the 1979 Prize from the Fondation de la Vocation for Le doux visage de l’amour (Love’s Sweet …

Hanin, Roger

(495 words)

Author(s): Dinah Assouline Stillman
Roger Hanin (born Roger Lévy), French actor, film director, playwright and novelist, was born in Algiers on October 20, 1925.  His father was a postal worker and his maternal grandfather a rabbi.  Hanin was a student in lycée when the Vichy regime’s anti-Semitic laws (see Anti-Judaism/Antisemitism/Anti-Zionism) were put into effect, and he poignantly describes in his autobiography the day he and the other Jewish students in his class were called by name and told to leave:  “I got up.  Within me there was a pain made of humiliation, of f…
Date: 2016-10-14