Holy Land rainbow park gives Purple Lady hope

It wasn't her wedding day, but it felt like it. There wasn't a chuppah, but there was a rainbow.

Barbara Meislin stood under a rainbow archway, engraved with the words, "At the beginning and the end of the rainbow there is love." The rainbow spans the entrance of a children's park in Neve Shalom/Wahat Al-Salam (Oasis of Peace) in Israel.

For Meislin, however, the rainbow spans much more than a park entrance. The Tiburon resident, who sponsored the park with her funds and her heart, refers to the effort as a "rainbow bridge from Marin to the Holy Land."

"It was an extraordinary day," she said of the recent park dedication. "I never had a real wedding, but if there was ever a feeling of what it is to be a bride, to have everyone love you, that's what this was.

"They threw purple stars in the air. They held ribbons with every color of the rainbow. They drew me pictures and showered me with every purple thing you can imagine."

The park was built to the specifications of Meislin, known by many as the "Purple Lady," with specially painted purple play equipment. The color was the favorite of her daughter Lori, who died from a rare viral infection at the age of 7 in 1967.

"When you have an experience as traumatic as losing a child, you have to devise ways for not only emotional survival but also the return to joy," Meislin said. Besides her connection to purple, she views rainbows as "the metaphoric symbol of hope," her way of "expressing joy."

And this rainbow project, she says, has been her "purple-est!"

Numbers also appear to hold significance. Seven feet high, with seven rays of color, the rainbow was designed by Meislin's friend Helen Webber, to represent "Lori's seven years of hope."

"Now, when I think of those children swinging and laughing and playing," Meislin said, "I know Lori is with them."

The Bay Area philanthropist first learned of Neve Shalom/Wahat Al-Salam through a friend, Miriam Levy. In that small, "unique corner of the world," she said, about 30 Israeli and Palestinian families live together peacefully. Inspired by the residents' compassionate and accepting attitudes, Meislin decided to become a part of their lives.

"This just felt as close to my heart as could be," she said. "It's…a dream of peace believed and lived. That's what is so beautiful. These Jews and Arabs live together, they are raised together. Their school is one of joy — the students are enthusiastic and the teachers are caring."

The dedication earlier this spring was Meislin's first chance to actually visit the Israeli-Palestinian village. The three-month negotiating and construction process had been a long-distance effort, based on her trust in Palestinian villager Daoud Boulos, the site engineer.

Others in the Bay Area got involved in the dedication. One friend who owns a stationery store in Marin donated a box of rainbow stickers for the children.

"I was so touched," said Meislin. "She's a totally different religion, but she was interested enough to help."

Such gestures keep Meislin inspired. She calls these moments "guiding lights" or "God giggles."

"They're all pieces to the rainbow puzzle," Meislin said. "God gives you these little signals, these lampposts along the way, and they help you to fit the pieces together."

Meislin's next effort is a stone bench and table for the park, so the Neve Shalom/Wahat Al-Salam children can eat their lunch with her daughter's blessing. She will inscribe the bench with the words, "Little lady Lori Margo Meislin, child of sunlight, child of moonlight grace, shine your little light of grace upon all who find this place. " The same words can be found on a white gazebo that Meislin provided in Tiburon as a place of reflection for people of all faiths.

"The bench and table will be a useful place where Lori can have lunch with the kids every day," she said. "Her soul will be there, even though her little body was here."