It’s highly unusual for a young Israeli woman to influence positively a large number of individuals who knew her and – after her tragic death in a road accident at the age of 20 – to benefit tens or even hundreds of thousands of people in Israel and abroad.
But this what happened to Danielle Sonnenfeld, who was born in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, in 1995 and came on aliya to this country at the age of eight with her mother Rachel, her father Moti and siblings. Living in Ra’anana north of Tel Aviv, she went to Orthodox Jewish schools, wrote dozens of lovely Hebrew poems from the age of six, excelled in drawing and as an honors student at high school and completed two years of very-meaningful national service after taking a first-aid course and volunteering in ambulances.
At the age of 12, Danielle wrote: “This is life, ever so complex. Not always is the future painted in shades of roses. For this is life, and we will endure, and with its passage, all will improve.”
At the age of 18, she volunteered to work at the pediatric oncology department at Schneider Children’s Medical Center in Petah Tikva, compassionately supporting kids who contracted cancer. She made personal connections with all of them. When she spoke to the young patients about conquering their illnesses, it was never “you”; she always said: “We are going to get over this…”
Only after her funeral did her family learn that she became so attached to a lone young soldier (was Jewish like his mother and had a Christian father) who suffered from cancer that after his death, she visited his grave once a month in a cemetery so he “wouldn’t be alone.”
During her second year of voluntary service, she worked with high-risk teens in Acre but continued to visit children in the cancer wards. The brunette-haired, blue-eyed Danielle was a beautiful person inside and out, a young woman who blended exceptional kindness, compassion, modesty, and talents in a marvelous tapestry of giving that shone from her dancing eyes and radiant smile. Her life was a golden chain of generosity and loving-kindness to her beloved people.
On her way home from the hospital, she was killed in a traffic accident.
There was an outpouring of anguish from her friends when they learned of her death. Avia Tanami, who volunteered Daniella at the hospital, wrote: “It’s said that the Holy One always takes the very best, and I can attest that He took the best of the best! You are perfect, Danielle, amazing in everything you do. There is nothing you don’t know, nothing that you don’t succeed at.
“My thoughts refuse to acknowledge what happened. My heart refuses to face reality. I’m so grateful for the privilege I had in knowing you. We were such a close-knit group of six, and you were the one who promised that we’d remain friends forever, that you wouldn’t let anyone break up our friendship. You always went out of your way to get us back together, to ensure that we all kept in touch. Hardly a day went by when we didn’t chat or laugh together.
“So many times, during the week, I find myself wanting to tell you things, to share what’s going on with you, to send a picture or just hear what you’re up to. It’s so hard for me. The throngs of people who descended upon your house this week are unbelievable. So many people who love and cherish you. I always knew that you were a special friend, but this week I was amazed by the stories I heard. You were so modest, so unassuming.
“My Danielle, it’s so hard for me to speak about you in the past tense. I can’t imagine a world without you. Where do we go from here? How do we go on? Please watch over us from above and give us all the strength to continue with this giant void in our hearts.”
And now, four-and-a-half years after her passing, the Danielle Sonnenfeld Foundation founded by her wealthy parents operate in her memory over 100 ongoing projects in Israel and in Europe promoting ion of promoting charity, health, social projects, and Jewish education. One of these projects is giving an annual prize to physicians and nurses “with a heart,” as Danielle dreamed of becoming a doctor. annually in perpetuity to medical professionals who rise beyond their professions and give of themselves to patients.
This year, 11 primary physicians (and the family of a 12th doctor who died of illness recently) received the “Danielle Sonnenfeld Healing with a Heart Prize” at a private event at the Jerusalem International Conventional Center. The dozen doctors were chosen among 5,500 colleagues by 250,000 Israelis who voted on the Internet for the best and most compassionate general practitioners. Attending were Israel’s ministers of defense and education, the deputy health minister, the mayor of Jerusalem, the former justice minister (a Tel Aviv resident who knew Danielle when she was a teen), leaders of the country’s four health maintenance organizations and members and friends of the Sonnenfeld family.
Moti Sonnenfeld said at the recent ceremony, attended by 250 invitees, that “Danielle used to say to me: ‘Even more important than the medicine itself is the way that doctors treated their patients and families,’”
The variety of causes for which the foundation established projects is very broad. Aside from the Healing with a Heart prizes, they include helping couples from disadvantaged families; providing services for women exposed to family violence; helping young couples cover their wedding costs; an online Bible class in Hebrew open to the public; Jewish studies in her birthplace in Brazil; a Jewish library in Milan; help to couples undergoing in-vitro fertilization; support for a bone-marrow databank; encouragement of high-risk girls to perform national service; bar/bat mitzvah ceremonies in Israel for youngsters from Europe and blind Israeli youths; and social support for prisoners’ families.