Dafna Meir’s Controversial New Biography

Dafna Meir’s Controversial New Biography

Following the horrific murder of Dafna Meir last year, people around the world heard bits and pieces about her and her life. We heard how, at the age of 10, a family court removed Dafna from her home and placed her in an orphanage. We read how, before they even married, she and her husband, Natan, resolved to become a foster family to take in home-less children like young Dafna. We read about her passion for women’s reproductive health, her dedication to the patients she treated as a nurse (she learned Arabic to better serve her many Arab patients). We heard about her dedication to her husband and children–4 biological, 2 fostered. Her daughter, we learned, had even nicknamed her “the best mother in the galaxy.”

And now, all over Israel, people (including me) are reading Dafna’s newly-released biography What Will Happen if I Die Tomorrow: The Life Story of Dafna Meir by Yifat Ehrlich. This book is a definite page-turner that pulls you in to read more and more about the dramatic life of this awe-inspiring woman who endured so many potentially crushing hardships– health-related, fertility-related, a financial crisis– and somehow Dafna managed to rise above them. To live a life of passion and idealism and caring and love. Almost as if the hardships, in her heart, were a springboard, pushing her to even greater determination and drive, to ascend higher and higher.

On December 23, 2015, 3 weeks before she was murdered, Dafna shared her philosophy of life with a high-school friend who was feeling down because of how little, she felt, she manages to accomplish.:

“My husband always focuses on what he still hasn’t managed to do and falls into despair instead of focusing on how much good he has already accomplished. We are working on that…

“I am the opposite. Every night I get into bed to go to sleep with a feeling that I did a million mitzvot and I brought a ton of light into to the world. That Hashem loves me, is totally crazy about me, and that also the things I didn’t manage to do, or that turned out badly (like arguments with my children) were exactly as they were meant to be. Everything is from Above. Rabbi Arush writes that our failures are also from Hashem, it’s not nice to attribute only our successes to Him.”

During her fourth birth (all of her births were by C-section), the doctor discovered that Dafna’s life and the life of her fetus had been in serious danger during the pregnancy, and he recommended tubal ligation so that she would never be able bear another child. Dafna, who was in her early thirties and had hoped to have more biological children, reluctantly agreed.

A mother who became depressed following her own tubal ligation contacted Dafna (this was not unusual: Dafna answered thousands of questions online and by phone related to women’s reproductive health). This is what Dafna responded:

December 23, 2015

“Regarding the fact that you had a ligation–I also feel that this is a kind of defect in my body. It’s not an ideal situation to have your tubes tied. They don’t get tied for no reason. But what can I tell you? They also removed the lens of my eye because of a cataract, and my eye was injured during a traffic accident. I found myself from the age of 25 with vision in only one eye. And that’s how I’ve been going around the world for 13 years already, with one eye that sees, and the second one for decorative purposes only. It’s a defect. I wouldn’t have chosen it. And still, my life is pure honey. I see things with greater clarity than people with 4 eyes. And that’s how Hashem wants me now. With one eye and tied tubes.”

Dafna was larger than life– often reading 6 or 7 books at one time (she had books lying open scattered around her home), travelling around Israel to take courses to advance her knowledge of women’s reproductive health and other topics, passionate about her work as a nurse, her children, the love of her life, Natan.

She was an idealistic person who had strong opinions, which she did not hesitate to share. The second hundred pages of the book consists almost exclusively of the letters Dafna sent to her husband, her sister, her friends, and various groups of which she was a member–probably thousands over the course of her lifetime.

But Dafna’s tendency to share her strong opinions was also, at times, her greatest weakness.

The next to last chapter of the book is entitled “The Demon Came Out of Me,” which is how Dafna described a series of angry correspondences and interactions which she had initiated with various people in her life. This second to last chapter focuses on Dafna’s furious correspondence with, it turns out, an old friend of mine and my esteemed teacher, both of whom deserve standing ovations from Am Yisrael and not a slew of accusatory Emails.

At one point, Dafna wrote the following to a friend (with whom she had also initiated a stormy conflict): “Over recent months I have clashed with many people. In almost all cases I initiated the clash…Because this is something that has been happening recently and all of a sudden, and is taking place on many fronts, I am asking myself whether this is something hormonal. And what is happening with me, actually.”

I have been hearing that others reading the book question the author’s decision (along with the decision of Natan Meir, who worked closely with Yifat Ehrlich) to present an imperfect Dafna Meir, to present her “demon” alongside her larger-than-life-ness.

But for me, hearing about Dafna’s demon is what makes the book so powerful. It is what makes me feel that Dafna Meir isn’t only a person I can look up to. She is, as a person who faces my own personal demons, a human being I can relate to.

After her murder, her husband found this list in her purse, which Dafna carried with her everywhere she went.

Among the reminders on this list for self-improvement are suggestions for how she should act when conflicts arise with other people:

1. Leave in the middle of the situation in order to be alone with myself.
2. Write down my difficult feelings on a piece of paper.
3. Say “I am sorry” “Forgive me” “Thank you for bringing that to my attention”
4. Don’t attempt to defend or justify myself in the middle of the situation
5. Be simultaneously assertive and polite.
6. Remain silent

Just as, in her dying moments, Dafna Meir courageously fought off the Palestinian terrorist to save the life of her young foster son who was clinging to her side, we see from this list that Dafna was fighting until the very end.

A true heroine, HY”D.

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17 comments

  1. I desperately want an English translation of this book, and also of another book you mentioned some years back – an autobiography of a religious woman on/gyn- you even translated some excerpts.

  2. Is there a website from which we can order the book?

  3. Oh my G-d.
    I can’t believe the letters that she regretted sending were now published. That seems deeply unfair to her and disrespectful of her.
    Yes we can learn from them. But still!
    I hope nobody ever does that to me.

    • JewishMom

      I hear what you are saying, but she Dafna extremely close with her husband and it was clearly his decision to publish them. I am sure he had his reasons, and felt Dafna would approve…

      Though I also think the letter’s unfortunate recipients are probably not happy about the decision to publish them.

  4. perhaps because Dafna was passionate about her opinions, she was able to accomplish so much in her life. passion can act as a stimulus for action; it is up to us to decide how to use that action/energy—for good or not good actions…

    as a woman, i agree with Dafna’s assessment of her increasing feistiness: hormones. of course, there’s no research on this, but i suspect that our behavior and possibly thought patterns are largely influenced by our chemical balance–or imbalance. perhaps as we age, there’s more imbalance than balance in some of us which leads us to be more unlike our “usual” selves… which is also reflected in the monthly cycles where many of us experience extreme moodiness….

  5. what a wonderful, woman, and a real not like some perfect tzedekes, but she like many of us had demons, insecurities, imperfections which she acknowledged and worked on, and in the process became stronger and more compassionate.
    I just finished reading a book about an amazing tzedkes in Jerusalem, who was larger than life; but somehow, she seemed too perfect, couldn’t relate to her, she dwelt in another world and there were not too many places were our worlds overlapped. Dafna, on the other hand, was one of us, not holier than thou and in that is where her greatness laid. She was a soul sister even with all the blemishes, real, not photo-shopped to perfection.

    Wish the book was also in English. Probably within time it will be. It will be a good business decision to do so as many would want to read it.

  6. Kathy lipkin

    This article makes me very uncomfortable. Why speak negatively about a woman who, by all accounts, did more mitzvahs in her short life than many of us will ever do? She also overcame obstacles that most, B’H, will never face. Hashem felt Dafna was up to extraordinary life challenges and she rose to meet them, with apparently no self pity.

    I understand the reasoning behind bringing up the negative but if we are going to make ourselves feel better because Dafna showed she wasn’t Hashem – perfect – then I think there should be much the same written on ALL of us. Who wants to be the first to volunteer?
    Yes, Dafna’s husband authorized this but remember, when he approved the release of the letters he was a heartbroken man in an extreme grief situation, also trying to care for traumatized children.Just trying to care for the retraumatized foster child whose life Dafna saved would be a tremendous challenge. I doubt he was in a good place to make irreversible decisions.
    By the way, before early retirement due to health, I was a Pulitzer-Prize nominated journalist in the States; I made my reputation by my in-depth profiles of admirable people.
    I also knew when to keep my knowledge to myself.

    • gita levi

      B”H
      I actually wanted to delete what I had written but could not find a way to do so. Kathy Lipkin I so agree with you! Can’t believe we are now “discussing” her hormone “imbalance”. Such an amazing woman. It must be remembered that she, Hashem Yikom Dama, did not authorize this book, the publishing of any of her letters – no matter what the content was. As was said here she was an amazing woman full of good deeds despite whatever she went thru in her short life. We should be discussing her heroism and the great things she did and nothing else. Thank you for your comment. And I would like very much to delete mine.

  7. You know, I think she deserves to be put on a pedestal and remembered for her greatness. I would be mortified if my weaknesses were aired to the whole world after I was gone…
    Wasn’t there enough content to fill a Book with her obvious accomplishments?

  8. Wasn’t it enough that she died Al Kidush Hashem?

  9. JewishMom

    I have been following the comments, and I hear everyone’s concerns. Why write a biography which discusses Dafna’s weaknesses and not only her strengths?

    But as someone who read all 200 pages of this book, and learned a great deal about Dafna Meir, my strong feeling is that dafna was a person who was remarkably real as well as unflinchingly public about her personal struggles and weaknesses. She didn’t believe in keeping skeletons in the closet, she kept all her personal closets wide open.

    For that reason, I can understand’s Natan’s decision to share her weaknesses. For a more private person, it wouldn’t be appropriate. But for Dafna, this book is simply as real as she was for all to see, for her whole life.

    • Kathy Lipkin

      This is your blog so you can write anything you want. But you might want to self examine why you needed to write about Dafna’s weaknesses in your post, rather than to simply explain that the book offers a well rounded, unvarnished portrait of this special woman and let the reader take it from there.

      As a journalist, I was taught to bow out of doing a story if I had any possible conflict of interest. You have one: It’s clear that you were very unhappy about Dafna’s slew of accusatory emails to your former teacher and friend.
      I know that bloggers absolutely do not have to hold to the traditional journalism standards, but in this case I think it might have been a good idea!

  10. I hope that if anyone would ever write a biography about me (may Moshiach come long before then) that they would acknowledge my weaknesses and not pretend I am a saint.

    If I was not aware of my defects, perhaps I would be embarrassed that they were shared. But to share things I know about and am working on? I would be more embarrassed of a book that whitewashed me or made women feel inferior. Learn from the things I am doing right, but don’t idolize me when I don’t deserve it.

  11. gita levi

    B”H
    i think we must remind ourselves that Dafne Meir was slaughtered in front of her children by a terrorist. She fought instead of trying to run, in order to save her children! Slaughtered with a knife in the entrance to her home! Her home in Eretz Yisrael which she loved so much!
    Does not seem compassionate to then make her personal life known and discussed by others. She did not write those letters to me, so why should I be reading them? What makes them public property because she is a terrorist victim???
    We can learn lessons about strengths and weaknesses from people who are still living and have made a clear person choice to publicize them… who can “answer back” if things they have done or said have been misunderstood or taken out of context.
    Dafne Meir was robbed of the opportunity to explain by that terrorist. May she rest in peace and may her blood be Avenged. And may we learn from her the compassion and courage of a person who was neglected and then abandoned to do so much good for others with such bravery and heart.

  12. This book also makes me feel uncomfortable.
    I only want to know the positive about a terror victim. I don’t think anyone assumes a person is perfect, but we have an inyan to only be maspid positive characteristics about the deceased.

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