Dagmar Dayan – Devorah bat Tzvi David v’Tovah
October 20th, 1925 – August 16th 2021
Baruch Dayan HaEmet Blessed is the True Judge is the traditional blessing we say on hearing bad news, specifically of the death of a loved one. Dayan, Judge, of course was Dagmar’s family name from her second husband David, of Syrian descent. Baruch Dayan, Baruch Dagmar Dayan. Blessed is the memory of Devorah bat Tvi David v’Tovah.
Aishet chayil mi yimtzah ve-rachok mi-peninim michrah – this verse from the Book of Proverbs 31, meaning who can find a woman of valor, a strong woman, her price is far above rubies, is often quoted at the funeral of a Jewish woman, but I cannot think of anyone more worthy of this title than Dagmar Dayan – this tough, resilient, powerful, elegant, resourceful, talented, stylish woman. She had an adventurous and extraordinary life and certainly not an easy one with some deeply painful relationships and challenges. Many of the attributes of the woman described in this text apply to Dagmar.
In this Hebrew month of Elul that leads us into the New Year, we are asked to look inside and examine our actions, our relationships, to review our lives. How do we review and sum up the life of Dagmar Dayan? I know only some of her story from knowing her and listening to her and from reading her long memoir that only covers the years 1944 – 1972.
Dagmar was born in Germany in October 1925 where she witnessed the tragic accident that killed her older brother Irwin and the ripples of trauma it left, as well as Hitler’s rise to power. The family escaped to Palestine, living in a frugal home and Dagmar as a young woman was enlisted in the British army, serving as a translator among other roles. She met and married her first husband Irving Lomasky, a US soldier, who was killed on D Day. She also served in Egypt as well as pre-Israel Palestine. In 1944 she made a pretty perilous journey from Cairo to New York, dodging German torpedoes and getting acute appendicitis on the ship, still not knowing for sure the status of her missing husband. After being deceived by his family in Brooklyn and finding out that they had been hiding the truth, Dagmar broke ties with them all forever. She was always so smart and resourceful and a quick study and learned the diamond cutting trade in Manhattan and made really good money, until a medical condition made working with that fine diamond dust a health risk and she learned how to give electrolysis treatments, eventually buying her own machine and starting her own business. With this and offering alterations to clothing, Dagmar made enough money to bring her mother (her father had died before she left Palestine) and remaining siblings Ingrid, Fred and Lea to New York, paying for their passage and accommodations. These were not always easy relationships, however. In New York, Dagmar was courted by the Syrian born David Dayan and after a fair amount of deliberation, she agreed to marry him and their adventures began, living in Manilla in the Philippines where David worked in an embroidery factory and they had an extremely social, expat life with lavish luncheons and parties and bridge games. Dagmar became a nurturing mother to Adele from David’s first marriage, whose birth mother had rejected her and she became an accomplished cook, baker and hostess, entertaining in style. Dagmar always had an incredible eye for beautiful things – furniture, clothes, antiques, food and she was always proud of being able to get a good bargain. She learned great skills at decorating and furnished their various homes around the world, making them exquisite on tight budgets. We all know how even in her 80s and 90s, Dagmar would always show up so beautifully dressed. Such style!
They moved from Manilla to New London, Connecticut, where David got a new position and they became very integrated into the Jewish community there and where their son Mark was born. One year Dagmar did an intensive summer course to get a certificate of Jewish education at the Jewish Theological Seminary in New York, spending all week there and coming home at weekends. Dagmar immediately got two jobs in Connecticut as a Hebrew School teacher with great success. Dagmar’s Hebrew was excellent and she was also fluent in Arabic, German of course, and had good Spanish and some French.
An opportunity came their way to move again; this time to San Juan, Puerto Rico, where once again Dagmar was the quintessential home maker, bargain hunter and socialite. Everywhere they lived, they made good friends and in San Juan, they became very involved in Shaare Tzedek, the Conservative Congregation, with Dagmar very active in the Sisterhood and Hadassah, as well as once again becoming a Hebrew School teacher, where Mark studied for and had his Bar Mitzvah.
In her own words: “I loved being busy teaching – it was a great feeling to be productive and contributing to the community. I had joined the sisterhood as well as Hadassah and actively participated in both.”
Dagmar was always cooking and baking and many of us remember the unbelievable cakes, cookies and other goodies in her active years at Bonai Shalom. It was not uncommon for her to knock on my door with a tub of her legendary potato salad and some mandel bread. Dagmar was very instrumental in Bonai’s sisterhood back in the day, instituting fundraisers for our Hebrew School, special kiddishes honoring people and all the gatherings and socials.
During the years of living in Manila and San Juan, there was always so much exciting travel all over Europe and Asia, which Dagmar loved. Sightseeing and shopping – not lying on the beach. In fact, in her memoir, Dagmar writes:
“Doing nothing is not in my nature, it is difficult for me to sit still and idle the time away. I had lots of energy and was always on the lookout for something new to do that challenged me.”
Indeed, Dagmar took on all kinds of challenges, but too many times challenges came to her uninvited. Some serious health challenges and some very painful challenges within her family of which it was so hard for her to speak and to comprehend.
The family moved back to the Philippines until David retired and Dagmar discovered a new skill and passion for Chinese antique pottery and many of us have seen her impressive collection. They moved back to the US, to Florida where Dagmar had a catering business and took care of David who had Parkinson’s until he died. Eventually Dagmar moved here to Boulder in 2003 to be close to her family. There are so many missing parts to this complicated and adventurous story and some of you know some of the gaps, the 80s and 90s, but we know that Dagmar was always busy, always involved. I remember the love and the pride at the Bar and Bat Mitzvah of her twin grandchildren David and Lisa, who she missed terribly in these recent years.
Bonai Shalom became Dagmar’s Boulder family with some very close and dear friendships. In her book, Dagmar speaks of a friendship when she was in Manilla with a much older woman called Madeleine. She says:
“David never understood my friendship with Madelaine. He told me many times: “I cannot understand this friendship between you and the old lady. You spend so much time together! Why don’t you find some young friends to be with! I was not the only young woman to be Madeleine’s friend, because of her interest and zest for life and what she shared of it. She was always sought out by younger women. We all learned a lot from her.”
As I read that, I thought how much it could be describing Dagmar herself as she became an elder and a role model to so many; and most of her closest friends are younger than her. Because we have all learned so much from her.
In one story from their time in Puerto Rico Dagmar speaks of a time when David and her helped out this American couple who were struggling and the wife Ilene thanked them so much and Dagmar said:
“It’s what people do for each other that counts – to help one another and we have been helped by others.”
Dagmar helped a lot of people in a lot of different ways in her life and in these last years, many people here have helped her. Despite all the pain, that’s what counts. And this act of burying Dagmar according to the Jewish tradition, the wish she clearly communicated to me a few years ago, is hesed shel emet, the truest act of loving kindness and our final way to help our friend Dagmar as she would have helped us. As well as all her dear friends, I do want to acknowledge Dagmar’s amazing team of caregivers who have been so devoted to her under difficult circumstances and allowed her dignity in her own home and even the ability to stay connected to community online. Thank you.
Aishet chayil mi yimtza? Who can find a woman of valor? We found one in Dagmar Dayan, Devorah bat Tzvi David v’Tovah and we are grateful to have known her and pray that she rests in peace. Twice daily in the month of Elul, we say Psalm 27 with the verse achat she’alti m’ayt hashem otah avakesh; shivti b’veit Adonai kol yemei chayei, lachazot b’noam Adonai u’l’vaker b’heychalo. One thing I ask and I will plead for it; that I might dwell in God’s house all the days of my life; that I might gaze on God’s beauty and frequent the holy palace. Dagmar, we pray for you that you are indeed dwelling in God’s house. Whatever that may mean. In these last days, I would always bring my shofar with me when I visited Dagmar, blowing it for her as is also the custom this month. I hope that some part of her soul heard the notes calling her. It is not usual to blow a shofar at a funeral, but I am going to do it anyway as a fanfare for Dagmar’s departure from this world.
May her memory be a blessing.