Danby Meital honored with lifetime achievement award

A founding member of Kehilat Moreshet Avraham, Meital has dedicated her life to civil service

Danby Meital, 73, arrived in Jerusalem from Wisconsin in 1974 (photo credit: BRIAN NEGIN)
Danby Meital, 73, arrived in Jerusalem from Wisconsin in 1974
(photo credit: BRIAN NEGIN)
On November 21, Kehilat Moreshet Avraham – the flagship congregation of the Masorti (Conservative) Movement in Israel, located in Armon Hanatziv near Jerusalem’s Haas Promenade – will honor founding member Danby Meital with a lifetime achievement award.
It was 45 years ago that Danby and her husband, Moshe, arrived in Armon Hanatziv and agreed to open their home to the new congregation. In the 1980s, the shul was granted a piece of land on Adam Street, where its current edifice was built.
“We got larger over the years, and I was always very involved,” says Danby.
That is an understatement. Danby’s fingerprints are all over the synagogue’s many programs in the neighborhood.
She helped establish a kindergarten and youth movement, which grew into the national TALI school network and Noam youth movement, as well as an after-school program for disadvantaged local children, and another to ease integration for Russian immigrants.
“I was on the board of the local council and was very involved in setting up this whole community,” says Danby, who served several terms as Moreshet Avraham’s president. “Armon Hanatziv is a bedroom community and we always needed to push a little harder.”
Her sense of civic responsibility was honed at the knee of her father, renowned eye doctor Prof. Daniel Burman, the first cousin of Israeli leaders Chaim Weizmann and Moshe Sharett. Burman started the ophthalmology departments at Hadassah-University Medical Center in Ein Kerem and Shaare Zedek Medical Center.
“Since I was two years old, we came to Israel for summers,” Danby explains. “My father was the first physician who came over to help during the Six Day War. There were a lot of major eye injuries to treat. He was here for the Yom Kippur War.”
When the family was in Jerusalem, Danby’s mother, Bea, was on the public relations staff of David Yellin College in Beit Hakerem. (“Danby” is a combination of her parents’ first names.)
During high school and college, Danby was active in Young Judaea, Hillel and other student Zionist organizations. When she was a college freshman at the University of Wisconsin, she met graduate student Marvin Ring.
“After our first date, I asked if he wanted to live in Israel. I told him I don’t date anybody who doesn’t want to live in Israel. He said, ‘Okay, what the hell?’” and that was that.
Marvin began using his Hebrew name, Moshe, after making aliyah once Danby had completed advanced degrees in Hebrew language and literature and international relations.
When he joined the Foreign Ministry, he had to Hebraicize his surname as well. Following the example set by Danby’s parents, the couple changed their family name to Meital, an acronym of the first letters of their four children’s names: Matan, Yochai, Talya and Lyana.
The Meitals have spent considerable time in various other countries, including Brazil on three separate occasions. They’ve traveled to Majorca, Madeira, Portugal and Spain. They set up the Conservative Movement in Melbourne, Australia, in 2003.
“My husband came to Israel in the 1950s and was exposed to Latin American Jews and we became involved in the crypto-Jewish world,” says Danby. “We lead seders for crypto-Jewish communities. We both speak Portuguese and do a lot of translation work to help members of these communities make their way to Israel.”
She laments that she speaks “only” five languages – English, Hebrew, French, Spanish and Portuguese – while her husband knows 10.
Danby earned a degree in international public health and was Israel’s representative to the World Health Organization in the 1980s.
“After that, I went into international medicine and international tourism. I am licensed as an international tour guide for taking Israeli groups overseas,” she says.
Moshe became a Hebrew University professor, specializing in Latin American and Portuguese language, literature and civilization.
After Danby retired four years ago, the Meitals founded Jerusalem Eat N Meet-Jerusalem Friday Night Shabbat Experience, serving groups as large as 50 people.
“There’s a great need for Jews, as well as non-Jews, who come to Israel and want to know what a real Shabbat experience is all about,” explains Danby. “We take them to our synagogue’s kabbalat Shabbat and then they come to our home and stand on our terrace overlooking the Dead Sea and Herodium. We explain what’s it like living in peaceful coexistence with our neighbors and successfully surviving the intifada in 1986, when our house was damaged several times.”
The group then proceeds inside for a traditional five-course Shabbat dinner accompanied by blessings, songs and explanations.
“Often we invite local people to join them at our table so our guests can meet other Israelis. We’re a liberal, open experience; we don’t restrict them because of Shabbat ritual,” says Danby.
The Meital children are all grown with children of their own.
Lyana is a tour guide married to a professional photographer. They live in Modi’in with their four children.
Talya recently came back to live in Israel after 25 years in the United States working in international finance. She and her husband are yoga instructors. They live in Tzur Hadassah with their two kids.
Yochai, a lawyer, lives in Efrat with his wife, a social worker at Alyn pediatric rehabilitation hospital, and their three children.
The youngest, Matan, is a management engineer in the ecological field in Chicago. He is married to a midwife and they have three children.
Danby’s sister, Daniella Krause, is a homeopath and family therapist in Zichron Yaakov.
For Danby, the best part of living in Israel is being “in a positive, comfortable, Jewish-identified environment. That was a major issue in my Zionist identification.” She says that when she arrived in Israel she was “quite left-wing” politically, but over the years she has shifted more to the center.
“Israel is not the country I came to 45 years ago or 65 years ago,” she reflects. “But it’s still the country I would never, ever leave.”