Dorit Rabinyan

Israeli writer and screenwriter

Dorit Rabinyan (Hebrew: דורית רביניאן; born September 25, 1972) is an Israeli writer and screenwriter.

Dorit Rabinyan in 2016


  • Freedom of speech in Israel is so fragile, and this book was attacked as a symbol, for its vulnerability.
  • All the Rivers touched a raw nerve in Israeli society. The book tries to address the Jewish fear of losing our identity in the Middle East. And yet that very fear condemned it to official rejection. It was banned from the high-school curriculum on the grounds that “intimate relations between Jews and non-Jews threaten to subvert our distinct identity.” The Minister of Education, Naftali Bennett had claimed that I portrayed Israeli soldiers as sadistic criminals — even though he flatly denied reading the book — and now all the Israeli social networks, news sites and current-affairs programs were discussing All The Rivers.
  • Despite the incessant efforts to caricature “the other” as demonic and boorish; despite the attempts to persuade us that the Palestinians are nothing but “shrapnel in the ass”; despite the political deadlock and Prime Minister Netanyahu’s steadfast refusal to engage with the other side — despite all this, All the Rivers is an aperture for dialogue. Far away in New York, Liat and Hilmi, an artist and a student, discover their affinities and their shared fate. Theirs is a complicated love story. But it is suffused with our responsibility to see the other, to be able to recognize ourselves in them. Above all, it rests on the hope that whether we want to or not, whether we shut our eyes or plug our ears, whether we drag our feet or stomp our legs, we will sooner or later admit that we — us and them — sail on the same boat.
  • Art and literature are about a magical appeal to identity and empathy. How an identity in literature is transferred into your own identity so that you care for a fictional stranger so that you get into his skin and wear his gaze. This is what is so powerful. It is an antidote to the armoury we are requested to put on. This shield of ignorance and indifference and apathy. Because if you really sense everything, if you don’t wear this shield, it is painful.
  • If you allow only one perspective, you narrow the world. [Then] something is missing for us to interpret our future. Where we are heading.
  • What literature should suggest to us as readers is beyond debate — it’s our ability to elaborate our perspectives and to have knowledge of the other from within his mind and feelings, allowing us to recognize the humanity of the other,” she said. “It makes us not only better human beings but better citizens of our worlds.
  • I’ve always been a little bit suspicious, because sometimes this poetic sensibility in Israeli culture turns the conflict into something romantic. There is nothing romantic about occupation and occupiers and the occupied.
  • Israel's collective consciousness, which was the cornerstone of the foundation of the Zionist state 53 years ago and which bound the immigrants from all parts of the world into a people, into a nation, is no longer our consciousness. This is the archaic, too idealistic outlook on life of our parents that arouses in us a concealed snigger at the Sabbath-eve family dinners. According to it, the individual has to sacrifice his own good, his freedom, his life, for the common good. This outlook has not succeeded in upgrading itself to a modern, sophisticated version.
    • "Young, Troubled and Lost in the Promised Land" Sunday Times (2001)
  • Through all those years Marcelle had confused Yoel with the imaginary heroes that her sad eyes cut out of the romances she read... and she realized that all through the past years she had merely travelled over the road map of the land of love, never in the land itself.
    • Our Weddings (1999)
  • This strange craft of writing stories requires self-belief in these visions that you have
  • We cannot explore someone else’s identity from within as we do with books and literature… And we cannot do it when you don’t wear someone else’s skin as literary work invites us to do. This empathy that we can taste is so unique to storytelling via the page....I try to encourage myself when it comes to writing prose. Because I do believe in it and love it. This is my home.”
  • By just acknowledging a dual perspective to everything, along with two justifications, you are considered a non-patriot in today’s Israel.

All the Rivers (2014)


Original title in Hebrew Gader Haya, translated into English by Jessica Cohen

  • Someone was at the door. I was vacuuming, with Nirvana on the stereo at full volume, and the polite doorbell chirps had failed to break through, rousing me only when they lost their patience and became long and aggressive. It was mid-November, early on a Saturday afternoon. I'd managed to get a few things done in the morning and was now busy cleaning. I vacuumed the couches and the hardwood floor, my ears bursting with the hollow roar of air and the reverberating music, a monotonous screen of white noise that somehow imbued me with calm. I was free of thoughts as I wielded the suction hose to root out dust and cat fur, entirely focused on the reds and blues of the rug. I snapped out of it when the vacuum's sigh subsided just as the song was whispering its last sounds. In the three- or four-second gap before the next track, I heard the sharp, insistent doorbell chime. Like a deaf person who suddenly regains her hearing, I had trouble finding language. (beginning of chapter 1)
  • The hoarseness of my voice echoes in my ears as if from another era: "I have to leave...." (chapter 7)
  • yesterday, in cafés and bars and streets all over town, thousands of other young couples had met, men and women whose paths had crossed and who had spent the weekend together, taking comfort in each other, salving their loneliness in this vast city. That's all, I thought as I sank down and my breathing grew deeper, aligned with his. Just as quickly as it started yesterday, it could be over tomorrow. It could all end with a big hug and a friendly kiss at the door. (chapter 13)
  • Although I was exhausted, it took a long time to fall asleep. Hilmi had dropped off long ago, but my mind hummed with the sounds of our time together, unready to let go of them yet. (chapter 13)
  • Quiet hours and long talks, awash in each other... (ch 14)
  • Those frozen December days, the last days of 2002, come back to me years later slightly blurred, shining through the mist, as though preserved in my memory right from the start with a slightly unreal distortion. Or perhaps it's that over time they have lost some of their sharpness and acquired a dreamy afterglow. 14
  • gaze meets the laptop screen and the words I poured out all afternoon. It began yesterday without any particular intent, just a quick reply to my sister. But today when I went back, the email suddenly took on a different form, more feverish, more poetic. I was seized by a storytelling binge, a lucid, cutting clarity, and from page to page the words joined together and frothed and flowed. And it is then that I realize I am not writing to Iris anymore. That the recipient is in fact myself, an as-of-yet unknown self, a me who has long ago gone back to Israel and is living my tomorrow-life in Tel Aviv, a distant me who will one day open up this file and read the words, and perhaps with hindsight have a better understanding of what is occurring inside me now, what I am going through in these mad and beautiful days. She will remember us as we once were, in New York, in Hilmi's Brooklyn studio. She will read the lines and remember how I sat here once on this couch, in December of 2002, like the bird perched on the windowsill all afternoon, and watched myself loving him while I wrote these words. (chapter 14)



Translated into English, in Close Encounters with Twenty Israeli Writers by Eilat Negev (2003)

  • There is something so wonderful and reassuring about the organism called "The Family', a multi-limbed, multi-headed creature. It's awful to tear oneself from such a large, warm body, but it is essential for growth. I would very much like to use the 'Me' term, but I can't. It's not accidental that I haven't yet written a novel with a first person singular narrator, only stories told by 'We'.
  • My traditional society defined womanhood as poverty, but I have turned it into wealth. As a child I was jealous of the preference for boys, then the jealousy became anger and disappointment, but I turned the offence into a source of strength, which produced literature and power. I am a link in a chain of astonishing women in my family.
  • We are drugged with romantic novels and Turkish films and sayings like, 'Everything will be better when you're married', and we rush panic-stricken towards the wedding-canopy, out of hunger, almost as though it were a children's disease we cannot recover from until we take the marriage vow. We leave the 'We' of the family and move directly to the 'Us' of the couple, without any 'Me' in the middle. I think that on the way from 'We' to 'Us' there has to be a 'Me', otherwise you have no energy for living.
  • The lighthouse of marriage is only one of a host of glimmering lights.
  • Darkness and the fact that the whole world is asleep brings a kind of quietness, and makes time softer, neutralizing the positive vibrations of humanity that abound in daylight. It is easier then to convince myself for several hours that the solitude I must have in order to write is inviolable.
    • about writing at nighttime
  • The work is tiring, drudgery, a labour of years, and when the reader receives the book, he has to feel the trickery, the magic. He must not see the heart that suffers, the grubby hands.
  • I don't know anyone, certainly not myself, who would sit and write for eight hours a day, if it were not for some lack, something broken in his life. History of art proves that emotional confusion and a crisis of values are a prerequisite for creation. I create not out of abundance but out of broken worlds. (What is so broken about your world? You grew up in a big, loving family.) There was a kind of weakness, when the home confronted the street. If I had not been the daughter of immigrants, if I were not aware of the gap between Ispahan and Kfar Saba, the tension between what my parents expected to find here and what they found, I would probably not have become a writer. That is the pit out of which I write.
  • (Do you classify yourself as a Sephardi writer?) I am in the middle, neither here nor there. I have a sense of comradeship with people like me, who were caressed by the same accent when they were babies, who had the same taste on their tongues.
  • I shall always write about immigrants, about mobility; about the gap between what you wish for, and what you get.

Interview (2002/2003)


In Literature and War: Conversations with Israeli and Palestinian Writers by Runo Isaksen, translated into English by Kari Dickson (2009)

  • (about what happened to the Sephardic Jews in Israel.) Well, we prefer to be called Mizrahi, that is, Oriental or Eastern. The term Sephardic isn't used so much anymore, and actually refers to people from Spain. The answer to your question is one of the great failings of the Zionist movement. The movement started in Europe and spread out from there, and as a result, the hegemony in Israel is European, which is foreign to this region. I believe that the conflict in the Middle East is what it is today because the Mizrahi Jews who emigrated here from Muslim countries have been so passive...They were persuaded to come to the new land by the European Jews. Most of them had in fact dreamed of it for years, but they never actively left their countries. So in effect they came here as 'guests' of the Zionist movement, and they groveled and apologized as they came. The pioneers were European, and the greater part of Middle Eastern Jews became second-class citizens, the proletariat.
  • The Holocaust effectively spewed the Jews out of Europe. Nothing even close to similar ever happened to the Jews in the Muslim world. Seen cynically, it seems strange that the Jews who were in effect exiled nevertheless continue to look to the European lifestyle with great veneration and try to recreate it in their own homeland. It makes you want to shout: 'Listen, people, you could have created something beautiful here, if you had only turned backs on those who killed six million of you, and instead accepted that the people who live in this region have never done anything like that.' I think that the majority of Jews who used to live with the Arabs were more peaceful, friendlier, more natural and humane than the European Jews. For example, the Sephardic rabbis in Morocco used to preach a pragmatic, sensible Judaism. Orthodoxy did not exist in those communities. Here in Israel, everything has become stricter and more extreme, like an echo of the Ashkenazi rabbis who had their religion influenced by a Catholic environment, where guilt and punishment were key concepts. (“What happened to the Sephardic culture here in Israel? Does it still exist at all?") DR: It was given no recognition. The European hegemony was so strong that it suppressed the very idea that there might be such a thing as Sephardic or Mizrahi culture. ("But has it continued to exist in one form or another?") DR: Behind closed doors, yes. In formal situations, no. But if we look back over the past ten years, there has been a dramatic change. Today, the notion that Israel is a pluralistic and multicultural place is more accepted. The very fact that my books and books by Sami Michael are being published is proof of that. Now you can listen to Middle Eastern music on the radio, watch TV dramas about families in Iraq or Iran, and it is all mainstream. It has received the Israeli stamp of kosher, as we say here. So now we are basically 100 percent Israeli. But that is something very recent.
  • Living in Israel means that you have the choice. You can live a totally European lifestyle, or you can live a life that is oriented toward the Arab world. Or the third world, if you like.
  • (Does she see herself as a Mizrahi writer?) Yes, of course. Some of my female colleagues claim that my writing is not feminist literature. And I completely agree, because it is human literature, written by a woman. The fact that I am a woman colors my writing. I am proud of being a woman, just as I am proud of being an Israeli of Iranian descent. I write from what is essentially me, and being Iranian is absolutely an element of that.
  • I really do see some interesting similarities in Hebrew and Palestinian literature, especially the literature written by second generation Mizrahi Jews and post-1948 Palestinians. The two have a lot in common, or rather a lot of parallels, as their paths do not cross and they never refer to each other. But they deal with the same subjects, the same set of issues. So you could say that we are on the same track, just using different languages.
  • The differences between me and an author like Etgar Keret, who has parents who survived the Holocaust, are obvious-but so are the similarities. In a way, we are both telling the stories of those who were silenced by Israeli hegemony. There was a conformity that said, 'Let bygones be bygones! We will create a new country! We want the children here to be proud and magnificent!' But this is not a fair game. And there is a great opportunity for literature here, to give voice to those silenced voices.
  • There is nothing more Arabic than honor and shame.
  • If you only have this superstition and no conscience in addition, then you're trapped in spiritual poverty. It's difficult even for me to let go of the superstition, no matter how much I want to. My parents cannot let go, because that is all they have. The alternative is far too frightening." ("And the alternative is to take responsibility for and control of your own life?") Yes, and that's a frightening thought, because there are no role models. So you feel trapped in this poverty, a kind of regression into the past.
  • Judaism is not something I practice, but something that I carry inside. Being Israeli gives you the privilege of including Jewishness as part of a package, part of yourself. You don't ask any questions unless you want to. I have grown up in a Jewish country and I appreciate that.
  • the literature I value the most is those parts of the Bible that I read through choice and love. I am proud of the Bible and carry it with me. I read it as literature, I don't worship it, but I see it as part of who I am.
  • Judaism is a cult religion. There is no evangelizing, newcomers are not welcome. Religious Jews cultivate and practice segregation at all levels. In terms of food, they separate milk and meat. Our weekdays are different. There are various materials that you're not supposed to wear. In fact, there are lots of elements from God's creation that aren't allowed-ranging from certain certain types of fish that you cannot eat to certain types of people you cannot marry. So it's a very isolated position, which means that Jews-wherever they live-often stick together and don't assimilate. I really wish that Judaism could be practiced in the way it deserves, that those who claim to be Jewish could show more respect for the non-Jews around them, for a start. The way I see it, thinking and wisdom are absolutely fundamental to the Jewish attitude. Judaism has been elaborated throughout more than 2,000 years of exile, but now that we've become masters of this country, taken by power, this wisdom has suddenly been forgotten. Look at Jews in Diaspora, in the global society, the fact that they're a minority makes them better Jews...Because they don't see their Jewishness as a passport. For them, Judaism is an obligation to be better people, they don't have a choice. Here in Israel, the Bible is used to suppress other religions, to control other people's lives, to kick people out of their home and subdue an entire nation. Just because you've had this book for so long, and then come back to where the action took place, you feel you can say, 'I'm going to use force, I call on the army!' We're talking here about people who demand land for spiritual reasons, and it's done in such a crude way. That's exploiting the Bible.
  • The problem with Palestinian literature in Israel is that so few of us know anything about it. ("Did you ever read any Palestinian literature in the course of your schooling?") No, they thought it would be more useful for us to read James Joyce than the literature of our neighbors. I think it is in fact an Israeli policy not to translate Arabic literature. There is a hostile attitude that is being transferred from one generation to the next. The truth is that we do not have insight into their personal and cultural life. We have nothing that can be used to bridge the gap. Literature could, of course, be such a bridge, because it helps you to see that other people are human just like us.
  • The old role for writers was linked to nation building. The country was so young, and we needed someone to speak on behalf of the people, but today, the disparity in opinions is so great that no one can claim to hold the absolute truth anymore. I can't stand and say that I know the truth. I feel confused and at a loss, like most people. That's why I practically never write newspaper articles. Nothing here is black and white, everything is shades of gray. Even my left-wing politics are fluid, because everything in society is fluid. I'm no Amos Oz, who's always ready to take a firm stance. I need someone to talk to me. Personally, I prefer listening to academics rather than authors, because academics analyze reality every day. At a political level, he or she is far better equipped to do this than someone who can write a love story that makes me melt. Authors are best at internalization, having empathy-an author who is good is good at a personal level.
  • (In Europe, Amos Oz is often talked about as some kind of modern Israeli prophet.) DR: That's because he can't let go of the old prophetic gestures. It's a nice role and he's comfortable with it, and maybe we need him to open people's eyes. Who knows, maybe it's just me who's cynical. But there's nothing prophetic about the rest of us, particularly the younger writers. Your horoscope can tell you more about the future than we can. I don't see writing as a kind of vocation or destiny, but as the only profession that I've mastered. If someone discovers something greater underlying it all, then I've been lucky. But I don't work an eight-hour day in order to deliver a message. I'm trying to find out something about myself, about my life, trying to control something in all this chaos. For me, writing is the only way to give order to my life. To earn a living by doing something that gives me peace, and that makes me happy
  • I work with the Palestinians, I try to communicate, try to be a part of the intellectual movement that wants to build a bridge. But walking on that bridge, or being a brick in that bridge-I'm not sure how much value that would have. I believe in the masses, in what happens in the grass roots.
  • The concept post-Zionism stems from the so-called new historians who in the early '90s came up with new facts, new stories, facts that the nation builders had omitted from textbooks in order to foster a generation that was proud and prepared to join the army and die, a generation fueled by patriotic loyalty. Facts such as the Palestinians being driven from their houses and having to flee in 1948. These new historians were deemed to be very radical, they sabotaged the prevailing views of Zionism and Israel. I personally am a radical and post-Zionist, in the sense that I take into account the fact that what we learned at school was not the absolute truth. At the same time, I live here in Israel, and in this sense I enjoy the fruits of the occupation in 1948. But I totally condemn the occupation in 1967. Israel is my only home. I know that it is built on a crime, and I am willing to pay for that crime, but I'm not willing to let Israel become a two-nation state. I want two states for two people, and I want to see the refugees from 1948 receive compensation for the crime that gave me my home, but I will never agree to creating a joint Jewish-Palestinian state between the River Jordan and the sea. I think that would be a catastrophe for the Jews. I want the Palestinian community to thrive, but not at the risk of becoming a refugee myself. And I say that with the greatest love for those who disagree with me, the sons and daughters of the refugees from 1948. They are welcome to come here and live in Jaffa, just as I sometimes go to live in New York, or my sister lives in London. They will have full rights here, but not citizenship. They will have their Palestine, their own homeland. In order to achieve peace, we have to establish two states alongside one another.

Strand of a Thousand Pearls (1999)


translated from the Hebrew

  • At last, the luminous match was struck and the day was lit. But Matti had awakened earlier-before her father rose from his dreamless bed and went, sorrowful, to the sea; before her sister Sofia's blue baby awoke and shook the house with his cough; before her sister Lizzie returned from night shift at the hospital, her high heels clacking on the living room floor, revealing under her white nurse's smock a shimmering low-necked dress and colorless bruises. Matti woke up knowing she'd had a bad dream but could not remember what it was. (first lines, chapter title: "Matti Azizyan's Birthday, five-thirty in the Morning")
  • Between them she felt small, even smaller than herself. (p13)
  • From Mama we learned what sort of people we should be, and we loved her as a confidante; but Papa's image was the mold of our dreams. (p52)
  • The silence was very intense, like the hush that used to trouble her mind when she was the first to wake up on Saturday mornings. (p97)
  • That spring evening, which was marked by the harsh sting of chopped red peppers, all over the housing estate, in all the flats around all the supper tables, the residents talked about Matti Azizyan. Her actions dwarfed the fathers and mothers and big brothers, made their voices crack with shock, and reduced their world to the dimensions of the backyard. (p135)
  • "If you could just for a moment come out of yourself and see what I wouldn't stop looking at yourself. But unfortunately you need a mirror to do it, my poor beauty.” (p148)

Quotes about

  • Rabinyan's writing is vivid and sensual, physical and intimate and at times, very direct and crude. Dorit Rabinyan is a very likeable woman. She is intense, reflective, and humorous.
    • Runo Isaksen in Literature and War: Conversations with Israeli and Palestinian Writers (2009)
  • Dorit Rabinyan is a young author of Iranian background who writes beautifully about Iran and Israel.
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