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The Chosen Ones: An Interview With Sigal Avin

The Israeli-American writer and director talks with us about rats on Manhattan’s Upper West Side, Larry David, and her favorite Jewish holiday

Periel Aschenbrand
July 22, 2016
Illustration by Tablet magazine
Illustration by Tablet magazine
Illustration by Tablet magazine
Illustration by Tablet magazine

The Chosen Ones is a weekly column by author and comedian Periel Aschenbrand, who interviews Jews doing fabulous things.

You’d never guess it by talking to her, but Sigal Avin is having what we call “a moment.”

For starters, she is the writer and director of the hit Israeli TV series, Irreversible, which she recently sold to Sony Studios and together with the studio, shot a pilot for ABC with David Schwimmer. In 2014, she was featured on of Variety’s list of “10 TV Scribes to Watch.”

At this moment, however, she’s trying to sleep train a baby. She is also in Israel—she goes back and forth between Tel Aviv, New York, and L.A.—and, having just wrapped the second season of her show, she is, understandably, exhausted.

I recently sat down with her in a coffee shop in Neve Tzedek, a neighborhood in Tel Aviv. The first thing out of her mouth was: “I’m so tired, I could cry.” And then: “My six year old just asked me if I was putting on a bra to cover my nipples so they don’t catch a cold. I was like, ‘oh, yes, that’s why. Not to pick my breasts up off the floor after you and sister sucked the life out of them.’ ”

Despite her fatigue—and the relentless Middle Eastern heat—her hair looked amazing. Then, we went to her home nearby and caught up.

PA: Why do you act like it’s normal that you directed the second series of your show with a three-month-old strapped to your back?

SA: I don’t. I only did at the time. But in a certain way, it was normal because if you have a baby and you have to direct, then you direct with a baby strapped to your back.

Imagine a man saying that. I’m sure in the history of the world, there has never been a man who directed a film with a baby strapped to him.

I think we’re stronger. I mean, I know we’re stronger. And we’re definitely more capable of multi-tasking. . .It wasn’t easy.

It was impressive.

(Ignoring the compliment, she continued.)

It’s not supposed to be easy. It was something like that book, you know, The Secret. Like I saw it in my head, and then it happened. In some way there was this fear that I’d have this baby and it would stop my career and in another way, it was a fantasy. There was this woman, an Italian film director, who did a film like that and I saw that and it became this very romantic thought. In reality it was much tougher and much harder and also, I had a lot of help from Sapphire.

Sapphire? What the hell does that mean? Is that some magical crystal energy?

Ha! No, that was the name of my nanny! Also, I would say this: As women, I don’t think we have a choice. One of the reasons why there aren’t enough women directors is that it’s almost impossible to handle as a mother. We need to change the system. But I felt very fulfilled succeeding.

I’ve heard you described as the female Larry David. Do you think that’s accurate?

Why would I argue with that!?

Israelis are usually much more laid back than Americans.

Well, I grew up back and forth and I think at the end of the day I’m more American than I am Israeli. I get accused of that, in Israel, that I’m too American.

You’re very quirky.

Quirky is good.

I remember when I first met you in 2012 in New York City, you were trying to rent an apartment and you were going insane about it.

I was only insane about the rats. It was the first thing I asked every real estate agent about.

But then you found an amazing place on the Upper West Side and you almost refused to move into it.

Because when I asked her if there were rats, she hesitated. And that moment of hesitation was it. All I could think of was that we will rent this house and there will be rats everywhere. Also I had just heard a terrible story about a rat that ate somebody’s nose while they were asleep.

Don’t you think you would wake up if a rat were eating your nose?

In my case, I’m a horrible sleeper, but in general, it can happen.

You and I—we always go to the worst case scenario. Like, immediately, we’re like, ‘What’s the worst possible thing that can happen?’

I don’t trust people who don’t. In fact, I disdain them.

Why do you think you do that?

Oh, I don’t know… my childhood, my imagination. A lot of me being a writer is about that. I take a situation and I go as far as I can with it. I try to see all the way to Z. What are all the things that can go wrong?

Favorite pair of shoes?

New York or Tel Aviv?


Havaiana flip flops for Tel Aviv, and Margiela Sneakers for NY.

Favorite Movie?


How do you drink your coffee?

Americano with cold soy milk.

Annoying. Gefilte fish or lox?

I like lox, I can do without gefilte fish.

What shampoo do you use?

Are you asking me that for this interview or because you love my hair?

Both. Are you insane? Is this a secret?

SA: I’m just not sure I want the world to know.

Favorite Jewish holiday?

I’ve noticed that as opposed to the U.S., where every holiday is happy—you get dressed up, you get candy, you trick or treat, you have Easter eggs, you put presents under the tree—in Israel, everything is about suffering. One holiday when you have to go into the field, in the hot sun and do manual labor and plant trees. One holiday you don’t eat bread. One holiday, you don’t eat at all.

That’s not really an answer, but okay. How do you eat your eggs?


That was obvious. Favorite drink?


What’s in your bag right now?

A lot of garbage.

Can you tell me five things?

There’s a wallet.

Who makes the wallet?

Alexander Wong.

Incorrect. Alexander Wang makes your wallet.

Yeah, him.

What else?

A pacifier. An iPhone charger. Beads from a necklace my six-year-old made. A notebook. And receipts. Lots of receipts. Actually, it’s mostly receipts.

Periel Aschenbrand, a comedian at heart, is the author of On My Kneesand The Only Bush I Trust Is My Own.