Last Sunday afternoon, a murderous terrorist entered the home of 38-year-old Dafna Meir, as she was preparing dinner with her children, and stabbed her to death.
Much has already been written about this senseless murder of an innocent woman, a mother, in her own home. More articles are sure to come. Friends will write about the person Dafna was, and about her family, and others will write about security concerns, as the entire nation attempts to process this tragedy.
Having been acquainted with Dafna’s professional activities, I think it is important to highlight the enormous legacy that she left behind.
Dafna, the mother of four biological children and two adopted ones, worked as a nurse in Soroka hospital. In addition, she devoted herself to promoting sexual health and wellness amongst women in the religious community. She promoted and taught the Fertility Awareness Method, a natural family planning approach introduced in Israel by women’s health guru Michal Schoenbrun. She fitted diaphragms for women, maintained a blog and website dedicated to answering queries related to women’s health, and voluntarily answered questions related to women’s sexual health on the Kolech website for two years.
Dafna possessed an extensive knowledge of women’s sexual and reproductive health and held a pioneering position amongst a new genre of religiously observant women not afraid to speak openly and clearly about sex, As such, it was only natural that she was invited to lecture in the course for intimacy instruction at Yahel, where I serve as academic advisor.
Dafna had a very practical approach to women’s health, and answered questions in a matter of fact manner, offering descriptive anatomic and physiological information to educate and empower women of all ages and dispel common myths. However, Dafna’s words also conveyed meaningful messages intended to normalize women’s experiences, encourage women that no question is stupid, and teach them to trust their bodies and themselves.
Among the many truths Dafna promoted in her articles and responses to queries, she not only dispelled myths but offered many powerful and empowering messages. Here are just a few examples:
You are normal
Intimate matters are not often discussed openly and what most women young and old want to know is if they are normal. Whether it’s a teenager inquiring about genital discharge, a nursing mother wondering about her dormant libido, or a new bride bemoaning the difficulties of family purity laws, Dafna normalized the experiences and provided anxiety reduction along with information.
Sexual education begins at age 0
In a post on her blog about speaking to children about sex, Dafna offered the following “answer your children’s questions with patience, non-judgment and listening. The way you answer is even more important than the content.”
In teaching women about reproductive health, Dafna emphasized body awareness and connection. “In most cases, you know your body better than your doctor.” Dafna taught women to rely on themselves to connect with the rhythm of their own cycle, and how to be aware when ovulation occurs, or, when something doesn’t feel right, to check it out with their doctors.
If you are having pain with sex, it’s not in your head, and it’s not normal either
Many women over the years have queried Dafna regarding painful intercourse. Whether they be new brides attempting to consummate the marriage for the first time, or a woman experiencing dryness after birth or during menopause, Dafna understood that there are many possible reasons that sex could be painful and encouraged women to seek out the appropriate diagnosis and treatment.
The hymen just isn’t all that important
As most sexuality educators will tell you, a common question on all sexual health forums relate to the hymen. Do I have a hymen? How do I know if I am a true virgin? How do I know if my hymen was broken if I didn’t bleed? How easily can the hymen break from exercise or tampon use? Dafna patiently explains in her answers, that hymens vary in shape and form, and that whether or not a hymen breaks or bleeds with first intercourse says nothing about a woman’s virtue. “The Rabbis understood that some women will bleed and other’s won’t — that is why every woman — whether she bleeds or not after the first intercourse, takes on the status of niddah [impure] and must separate from her husband until after she immerses herself [in the mikvah].”
Women’s pleasure and satisfaction is important, and here is how to get it
Dafna believed that knowledge is power and as such, taught women to know themselves. She explained to women how they are wired to experience pleasure, where they and their partner might find an organ known as the clitoris, and what an orgasm is. She taught this not only to married women, but any woman who wanted to know.
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Dafna taught not only “the facts of life” but wrote and spoke with such ease and comfort about sexuality, that she modeled for women the values that she taught: autonomy, empowerment, femininity and vitality. Yet her vitality was stolen, literally cut away from her, by an angry and hateful 16-year-old boy.
Dafna’s loss leaves an enormous void. Her tragic death is a loss not only to her family, to her friends and to her community, but to all the women and couples whose lives she enhanced. May her memory be a blessing.