Social activist Ruth Dayan passed away early Friday morning at the age of 103. She was the first wife of Chief of Staff and Defense Minister Moshe Dayan, and founder of the fashion and textile company Maskit and the charity Variety Israel.
Ruth Schwartz was born in Haifa in 1917, the daughter of Jewish newcomers in the Second Aliyah. Her sister, Reuma, married Ezer Weizman, founder and chief of the Israel Air Force, Defense Minister, and President. Ruth married Moshe Dayan in 1935 and divorced him in 1971. They had three children: Yael Dayan, a former Knesset member and Deputy Mayor of Tel Aviv; Ehud (Udi) Dayan, a writer; and Asaf “Assi” Dayan, an actor and filmmaker.
In 2010, Ruth Dayan created a sensation in Israel when she published her tell-all biography And Perhaps, The Story of Ruth Dayan, which became a local bestseller. Among other things, she wrote that her world-renowned husband “had such bad taste in women.” Barbara Tuchman described the book as “a marvelous memoir – of a woman, a marriage, a country; of farming and fighting, death and sorrow, love and divorce and fame. It is Israel in terms of real people with public faces and private emotions living through historic events.”
In 1954, Dayan founded Maskit, a fashion and decorative arts house that created jobs for new immigrants and preserved Jewish ethnic crafts and culture. In 1955, Dayan met fashion designer Finy Leitersdorf, who went on to design clothes and accessories for Maskit for 15 years.
Ruth Dayan also founded a Jewish–Arab social group, Brit Bnei Shem. She has worked on behalf of new immigrants, Bedouin, and women. She was also a lifelong friend of poet Raymonda Tawil, mother of Suha Arafat. In 1978, Dayan and Tawil planted a peace forest in Neve Shalom, Israel. In late 2009, Ruth Dayan flew to Malta to meet Arafat’s daughter, Zawha.
In 2014, Dayan won the Presidential Medal of the State of Israel and the Rappaport Award for Lifetime Achievement in the category of groundbreaking and transformative feminine action in Israeli society.
In May 2014, her son Assi passed away and in November 2017 her son Udi did as well.
President Reuven Rivlin paid tribute to Ruth Dayan upon learning of her death Friday morning: “The story of her life is the essence of the fulfillment of the Israeli and Zionist dream. An exemplary woman and role model for generations of entrepreneurs, whose tasteful words were filled with endless love for this place and its residents wherever they are. She was a woman who knew what good taste was and did well to formulate it in cuts and fabrics, whose work was connected to this special time and place that we all love to the depths of our hearts.”