Miriam Kainy, Israel’s first established woman playwright and winner of the Israel Prime Minister’s Literary Prize in 1997, regards herself as the “big mamma” of Israeli women playwrights—a claim that is difficult to contest. Kainy was born in Vienna and immigrated to Israel in 1950. In the 1960s, as a history and philosophy student at Tel Aviv University, she was active in the Israeli social-democratic left-wing and published poetry in the daily newspapers. All sixteen of her plays were written in Hebrew and were produced by Israel's established theater companies. In the 1980s, Kainy began writing plays dealing with “women’s issues” that featured female protagonists. Kainy has written manuscripts for radio and television and adapted dramas from English and Yiddish into Hebrew.
“Men have been running this world for thousands of years. Obviously in a lousy fashion. Now it’s our turn.”
These words are typical of Miriam Kainy, winner of the Israel Prime Minister’s Literary Prize in 1997, who regards herself as the “big mamma” of Israeli women playwrights—a claim that is difficult to contest. Israel’s first established woman playwright, she has been active for thirty years. All sixteen of her original plays were written in Hebrew; produced by the country’s established theater companies, they have always attracted a large audience.
Miriam Kainy writes for adults as well as for children and young people. One of her plays, The End of the Dream Season, has been translated and published internationally (Plays by Mediterranean Women, Aurora Metro Publications, London 1995). Miriam Kainy has also written manuscripts for radio and television and adapted and translated drama from English and Yiddish into Hebrew.
Early Life and Education
Miriam Kainy was born in Vienna, Austria, on January 28, 1942, and immigrated to Israel with her parents in 1950. Her father, Solomon Rauchwerger (Goldner, 1909–1959), was born in Hamburg and worked as a building supervisor. Her mother, Selma Weininger (1909–1992), a homemaker, was born in Vienna. They married in 1939. Miriam was their only child.
Miriam attended the Alliance school in Tel Aviv up to the tenth grade, when she was expelled because of bad behavior. She then went to Oranim, the A voluntary collective community, mainly agricultural, in which there is no private wealth and which is responsible for all the needs of its members and their families.Kibbutz Teachers’ College, for a further two years of study. She has always combined her artistic activity with social and political engagement. In the 1960s, as a young student of history and philosophy at Tel Aviv University, she was active in the Israeli social-democratic left wing and also with Students for Democracy, which opposed the “military government.” During this same period she published poetry in the daily newspapers. Kainy was invited to represent Israel at international meetings of women playwrights (New York 1988, Los Angeles 1997), took part in a meeting dealing with “The Power of Theater” (Salzburg 1996), initiated local and international conferences such as “Dialogue around the Mediterranean: Women Writers Talk Peace” (Tel Aviv 1997) and for a decade starting in 1987 served as chairperson of the Israeli Playwrights Association. In November 2003, at the Sixth International Women Playwrights Conference, she was elected vice president of Women Playwrights International, Incorporated.
Career as a Playwright
The first play by a woman dramatist to be mounted by one of the country’s major theaters, Miriam Kainy’s first play, The Return, a two-act drama, was produced by The Cameri Theater in 1973 (sixteen performances) and in a revised version by Beersheba Municipal Theater in 1975 (sixty-four performances). Profoundly political, it depicts a friendship between Reuben, a young Israeli Jew, and Riad, a young Israeli Arab, who meet on the roof of the house built by Riad’s father, now the property of Reuben’s father. The Return is the first Israeli drama which deals openly with the question of the Palestinians’ right to return to their post-1948 “abandoned property.” The very application of the term “right of return” in relation to the Palestinians—a term which otherwise was reserved for describing Jewish return to the Promised Land—is a strong political statement. Thus, on a broader level, the play deals with the right to the land, the essence of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Like a Bullet in the Head, a one-man play produced in 1981 by The Cameri Theater and Tzavta, also deals with a political issue. This time it focuses on the psychological implications of the Jewish-Arab conflict. The drama depicts a middle-aged Jewish Israeli academic who imagines that he is in competition with and thus threatened by his colleague Hassan, an Israeli Arab. This feeling impacts strongly on both the private and the professional level and leads to an attempted murder. The play, which was performed in Israel for five seasons with more than three hundred performances, represented Israel at the Edinburgh Festival in 1983. An English version was produced in 1988 by Franklin Street Theater in Buffalo, New York.
In 1982 Miriam Kainy co-wrote Them with the American director Joseph Chaikin. The play, produced by the Neve Zedek Theater, involved both Jewish and Arab actors and won first prize at the Jewish Theater Festival in Tel Aviv. The text was based on the actors’ personal experiences during the war in Lebanon and one critic referred to it as “a most relevant Israeli experience: an exciting production which hurts and which is important” (Elyakim Yaron, Ma’ariv, July 7, 1982).
In the middle of the 1980s Kainy began writing plays dealing with “women’s issues” and featuring women protagonists. In 1987 Babatha, a historical musical drama, was produced by Habimah, Israel’s national theater and played for forty-four performances. It depicts a powerful woman in a male-dominated military society. Set during the Bar Kochba uprising against the Roman conquerors during the second century c.e., its very choice of a female protagonist in this specific historical context heralded the entry of a feminist voice into the Israeli theater. Babatha was followed in 1990 by Antigone—Kainy’s Version, which was produced by the Tel-Aviv University Theater. The adaptation of the ancient play focused on the relations between the sisters Antigone and Ismene and on the tragedy of the female anti-hero. In 1991 the Beit Lessin Theater produced The End of the Dream Season, a drama which focused on a woman protagonist and her battle to combine achieved emancipation with personal happiness. The complexity of this equation serves as a comment on the actual situation in Israeli society. In 1996, another female anti-hero appeared. Bianca, also produced by Beit Lessin Theater, depicts a woman who questions the Israeli identity as the only choice for Jews and subsequently leaves Israel. One might argue that Bianca shows a note of resignation appearing in the voice of Israeli women.
Contrasting the idea of Jewish identity with Israeli identity, Kainy then wrote a series of short works including Did You Get Me Right? (1990), a farce produced by the Khan Theater in Jerusalem, and Roots (1997), a one-act play produced by the Short Play Festival at Tzavta. Cloudburst, produced by Beit Lessin Theater in 2002, deals with lifelong deception, which seems to be the only strategy that an old couple, survivors of the Holocaust, can summon to deal with the current tragedy. The play depicts a meeting between the couple and the grandchild they refuse to acknowledge. In 2003 Kainy directed Hypatia, written in collaboration with Seamus Finnigan, the first draft of which was read at the National Theatre Studio in London.
In 1967 she married Israel Kainy, an architect (b. 1941). They had two daughters—Jasmine (b. 1968) and Shunit (b. 1972)—before they divorced in 1975. The following year she married Harold Rubin, an artist, musician and architect born in South Africa in 1932. Their daughter, Abigail, was born in 1980.
Selected Works By Miriam Kainy
The Return (1973).
Like a Bullet in the Head (1981).
Antigone—Kainy’s Version and Do You Get Me Right? (1990).
End of the Dream Season (1991).
Our Family and First Love (1986).
Growing Pains (1987).
Making Aliyah (1990).
The Big Prize (1993)—all produced by The National Children and Youth Theater.
All Alone (1998), International Children’s Theater Festival, Haifa.
Translations and Adaptations
2003 Mirele Efros (1986 and 2003).
Boo to the Moon and Rosmersholm (1989).
Reserve Duty (1984).
After the Bell (1982).
The Meltzer Family (1977).
The Visit of the Queen of Sheba (1985).
Ben Zvi, Linda, ed. Theater in Israel, Michigan: 1996.
Feiler, Yael. “The Nation and His Wife: Feminism and Nationalism in Israel as Seen through the Plays of Miriam Kainy” (Swedish). Ph.D. diss., Stockholm University, 2004.
Finnegan, Seamus. James Joyce and the Israelites and Dialogues in Exile. Switzerland: 1995.
Levy, Shimon, and Corina Shoef. The Israeli Theater Canon: One Hundred and One Plays (Hebrew). Tel Aviv: 2002.
Urian, Dan. The Arab in Israeli Theater (Hebrew). Tel Aviv: 1996.
Women of Israel (Lexicon). Tel Aviv: 1991.