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.