Barbara Meislin was nearing 70, and the idea of writing an ethical will — in which one explains for future generations the wisdom and knowledge she has learned over the years — appealed to her. For the past five years though, she was immersed in another project, a children’s book. Upon completing it, she realized something: In a way, the message of the book can be considered her ethical will.
The Tiburon philanthropist, known as “The Purple Lady” — as she almost always dresses in various shades of purple — has written “No One Can Ever Steal Your Rainbow,” a hardcover book that she self-published so that all the proceeds can go to charity.
And the charity that she’s chosen is one dear to her heart: Neve Shalom/Wahat al-Salam, the Jewish-Palestinian village in Israel founded more than 20 years ago.
Meislin has a long history with the village, and she funded a playground there in memory of her daughter, Lori. Lori was 7 when she caught a rare viral infection and died suddenly in 1967.
Meislin believes that everyone has an assignment in life. In her case, it became apparent after she went through the loss of her daughter. “If there is any purpose to it, it’s to teach us a profound lesson to diminish suffering for someone else,” she said. “A joy shared is a joy doubled, and a sorrow shared is a sorrow halved. I believe that. Wherever I can be useful, I do it.”
Meislin, who found that singing helped her deal with her grief, decided to share the gift of song with others. Over the years, she has sung for many suffering from illness.
With the exception of that major loss, Meislin considers herself extraordinarily fortunate, in that she went from modest beginnings with a single mother in Newark, N.J., to being in the position to help others through The Purple Lady Trust.
“I was taught that no matter how little we had, there was always someone who had less,” she said. Now the Purple Lady’s moniker appears as a benefactor to numerous causes. “If you have more than you need, the money does not belong to you. You’re given an assignment to redistribute it in ways that are meaningful.”
Meislin explained that through life experience, she came to learn that no matter what happens in the external world, whatever is in the heart is one’s own, and it is there to stay. Whatever goodness is inside you, no external forces can take that away.
That’s the message of the book, which focuses on a real-life experience Meislin had after her Lori’s death. Overwrought with grief, Meislin hoped to find some explanation for her daughter’s death in the mail. Every day when she went to the mailbox, she hoped to find some explanation. But she never got it. Rather, her mailbox was stolen. So she and her daughter, Marla, painted a rainbow sign to replace it. That was stolen, too.
When she complained to her friend, Rabbi Nathan Segal, about what happened, his response was: “Purple Lady, no one can ever steal your rainbow.”
The rainbow was later returned.
Meislin’s book is illustrated by Helen Webber, a children’s book illustrator with whom Meislin has collaborated before. Webber also decorated the rainbow sign that welcomes visitors to “Little Lady Lori’s Purple Playground of Friendship” in Neve Shalom/Wahat al-Salam.
The book’s illustrations are bright and fanciful, and, surely due to Meislin’s influence, there is an abundance of purple.
The book comes with a CD of Meislin singing the accompanying song; Segal helped write the music.
When her daughter died almost 40 years ago, 95 percent of cases like hers were incurable. Now, 95 percent of them can be cured.
That fact gives Meislin hope, just as the existence of a village in which Jewish and Palestinian children are taught to speak each other’s language gives her hope.
“It’s a little ray of light in the Middle East,” she said.
“No One Can Ever Steal Your Rainbow” by Barbara Meislin is available through Purple Lady Productions, P.O. Box 1277, Tiburon, CA 94920, or by e-mailing