Dina Rabinovitch

Journalist and writer


Dina Rabinovitch, journalist and writer: born Charleston, South Carolina 9 June 1963; married first Guido Rauch (three daughters; marriage dissolved), secondly 1999 Anthony Julius (one son); died London 30 October 2007.

Dina Rabinovitch, who has died from breast cancer, gained her widest audience as a journalist with her writing about the disease. What marked out her writing was an absence of self-pity and an ability to spin the multiple strands of her life into a colourful tapestry of storytelling.

While her health deteriorated, she produced a vast volume of increasingly strong work as she wrote columns in The Guardian and The Jewish Chronicle, magazine pieces and, earlier this year, a book called Take Off Your Party Dress: when life's too busy for breast cancer. Proceeds from the book have gone to the appeal she launched which aims to raise £100,000 to establish a cancer research centre at Mount Vernon Hospital, in Northwood, Middlesex. A lot of people came to know Rabinovitch through the blog she kept charting her fundraising efforts. The blog took on a life of its own as she included news about breast cancer treatments, personal snippets about her family, funny anecdotes and her own health challenges.

As the indignities of the disease and its treatment crept up on her, she took care to show the world a groomed and elegant face. When her nails crumbled as a drug side effect, she had regular manicures at home. After her mastectomy, she marshalled fashion advisers from Vogue to help track down pleated, soft clothes that you could get your arms into after the operation and which would fall naturally and look good on a single-breasted woman. As her hair fell out from chemotherapy, grew back, and later thinned as she became weak, she kept it coloured and cut in flattering styles. Some of her funniest blog entries detailed her quest for the perfect blow-dry within walking distance of her home. It is a measure of her inclusive nature that the manicurist, hairdresser, local fruiterer and home help all regarded Rabinovitch as a close personal friend.

Dina Rabinovitch was born in South Carolina and lived briefly in Canada before moving to England with her parents and five siblings. She retained a slight transatlantic accent, most evident in the way she pronounced the word "yoghurt". Her taste in television also remained resolutely American and she was an early and enthusiastic fan of The Sopranos and The West Wing.

She was unusual in the way she straddled the worlds of orthodox Judaism and hip journalism. Her father, Rabbi Nahum Rabinovitch, is a scholar and communal leader from a highly rigorous and exacting strand of Judaism. Dina was educated in Jewish schools until she opted for a secular, academic girls' grammar school, Henrietta Barnett, for the sixth form. After school, she went to a theological seminary in Israel at which girls study Jewish law and traditions to a high academic level. Dina Rabinovitch's Judaism was like a skin. It was an integral part of her which she never sloughed off. Her daily life revolved round Jewish festivals and the weekly Sabbath. She was strictly kosher, which meant she rarely ate at work dos, but fellow journalists say she was never judgemental and regarded her religious practice as her own business.

Her taste for journalism had surfaced at a young age. While still at school, she helped to start a schools section in The Observer. While studying International Relations at the London School of Economics, she started writing for the student newspaper, The Beaver. Perhaps surprisingly, given the subject she was studying, Rabinovitch shied away from political themes, preferring to write about the arts, especially theatre.

Friends from her LSE days remember her as an ambitious and bright young thing who was clearly going to do well in life. She didn't follow the path of many aspiring journalists who start work on local papers but joined a short-lived arts and culture magazine. Colleagues recall Rabinovitch as cool and fashionable. She enjoyed her contact with celebrities, especially if they had a good story to tell, though she was far from star-struck.

In 1986, Rabinovitch joined the newly launched Independent as deputy features editor. Her marriage to the businessman Guido Rauch resulted in three daughters and, as family commitments were always her first priority, Rabinovitch opted for freelance journalism. Her acrimonious divorce exposed her to the vagaries of family courts and she wrote passionately about the failure of the system, as she saw it, to put the needs of the children first. Later, she worked as a journalist for The Guardian and recognised that children's literature was a growing and exciting field. She interviewed many leading children's writers and some, like Francesca Simon, author of the Horrid Henry books, and Meg Rosoff, became friends.

Dina Rabinovitch met and married the lawyer Anthony Julius in 1999 and worked hard to create a welcoming home environment for Anthony's four children, her three girls, and the son they had together. With up to eight children, two cats and numerous visitors, their house in Hendon hummed with life. From the small cosy kitchen, Dina gently nurtured an unusually warm and inclusive home life.

To most people, Hendon is an unprepossessing suburb in north London, but Dina Rabinovitch, who lived there for most of her life, kept lists of all the fascinating people and events that had a Hendon link. Disobedience, the recent novel by Naomi Alderman, whom Dina befriended just before she died, was set in Hendon, which Dina triumphantly took as proof of her point.

Dina was a welcoming and warm hostess and it was impossible to pop in to see her without being offered a piece of her mother-in-law's excellent cake or a tempting snack she'd conjured up. Sabbath lunch was always a lively affair with an array of dips, platters of cooked food and tasteful desserts. Guests might include a young novelist, a visiting Israeli academic, a well-known American lawyer, a playwright, local friends and the kids and their friends.

Conversation was always robust and fun. Both Dina and Anthony wore their huge intellects lightly and, in company, Dina was highly attentive to her guests and unlikely to let the full force of her views show. In private, she was more forthright, dispensing advice, sympathy and good humour with a generosity of spirit that inspired great love and devotion in her friends.

Ann Robinson

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