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Rabbi Leo Dee talks 1 year after the terror attack on his family – Israel News

There was something about the story of the murder of a mother and two daughters during the Passover holiday last year that imprinted itself on the consciousness of the nation and catapulted Rabbi Leo Dee, the grieving husband and father, to international prominence.

On April 7, 2023, Lucy Dee and her daughters Maia, 20, and Rina, 15, were driving to Tiberias over Hol Hamoed, the intermediate days of the week-long festival. Their vehicle was rammed off the road by terrorist gunmen, who shot all three women. Maia and Rina were killed on the scene, and Lucy passed away from her wounds two days later.

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In a private ceremony exactly one year later, Rabbi Leo Dee and his daughters Keren and Tali and son Yehuda (now 19, 18 and 15 years old) dedicated a new social hall in their community of Efrat in Lucy’s memory.

Later that evening, a standing-room-only crowd of 700, plus 2,400 who watched the ceremony online, gathered in the newly dedicated Shirat Lucy (Lucy’s Song) Hall above the Mishkan Tziporah synagogue in Efrat to remember the three women and to draw inspiration from their lives.

Rabbi Leo Dee speaks

After thanking the attendees for “the abundance of love, help, positive wishes, and kindness from everyone this year,” Rabbi Dee called these collective acts of kindness “our greatest nechama (comfort).”

Yehuda, Keren, Tali, and Rabbi Leo Dee at the cemetary. (credit: Dudik Koppelman)

In his talk, Rabbi Dee highlighted what he identified as “some of the thousands of projects that have been set off during this year in their memory by friends, family, and people we have never met before!”

He spoke about the Torah scroll written in Lucy’s memory, “with every one of the 300,000 letters written by different schoolchildren, soldiers, and others from around the world…. This sefer Torah is the essence of Lucy’s quest to get every Jew to feel part of our greater story and to shine their light in the world.”

In a widely publicized follow-up story to the murders, seven people received one of Lucy’s organs. In the audience that night was Rina Lital, the recipient of Lucy Dee’s heart. While relating all the ways that Rina’s life has begun to mirror Lucy’s since the transplant, Rabbi Dee said, “The head of organ donations at Beilinson (Hospital, Rabin Medical Center, Petah Tikvah) recently announced on national radio that the 30% increase in organ donors in Israel is directly connected to Lucy’s story.”

Continuing the theme of saving lives, Rabbi Dee said that “groups of extremely generous Swiss and American donors, who had never met any of us, dedicated a number of ambulances in (Lucy’s) memory and in the memory of Rina and Maia. They have saved numerous lives since then.”

Dressed in matching white T-shirts, the students and faculty of Efrat’s Orot Yehuda, where Lucy was a much-loved English teacher, recorded a haunting video of songs of encouragement and faith dedicated to Lucy’s memory. The five-minute video garnered more than 43,000 views in its first four days.

In Maia’s memory, tens of thousands of Jews around the world are learning and discussing a teaching from Pirkei Avot (Ethics of the Fathers) at their Shabbat table each week. The project started 18 months ago, when the Dees hosted two of Maia’s friends from London. On that Shabbat, they learned one mishna from Pirkei Avot at each meal. In Maia’s memory, those friends expanded the project to the extent that Rabbi Dee commented, “I cannot travel anywhere today without people coming up to me and saying, ‘I am learning your Pirkei Avot.’”

He also talked about a project that Maia initiated during her National Service in a high school in Yeroham. She provided snacks to encourage girls to study the weekly Torah portion during their morning break. Maia named the project “Nish Nosh Parsh” and, according to Rabbi Dee, the project “has now been rolled out to hundreds of ulpanot across Israel in her memory.”

Rabbi Dee shared that Rina’s friendly and adventurous nature has been memorialized in “a trip to Masada for hundreds of teens from around the country before Pesach. They are planning to build a spring for (Rina) in Hamra over the summer.

“Rina, if there was a girl in your year feeling lonely, you were the one with your arm around her, and you were the one who would start a new ball game to include her,” her father said. “To remember your kindness, your friends have built a special space in the school at Kiryat Arba to bring everyone together during break times and for Mincha (afternoon prayers) (which you inspired everyone to daven), and they have dedicated a new chug of basketball, to which everyone is invited and will keep everyone fit.”

Future plans include a new youth house for Ezra in the Tamar neighborhood of Efrat in memory of Rina, who was instrumental in helping to establish the Tamar branch.

Speaking directly to his wife and daughters, Dee concluded his summary of memorial projects with the words, “Lucy, Maia, and Rina – you will never be forgotten. Everything I am doing is dedicated to one of you, and so many projects continue in your merit.”

The rabbi peppered his evening’s talk with the question, “Mi kamocha, Yisrael?” (Who is like you, Israel?), highlighting the many ways that he has been inspired by the Jewish people’s response to his family’s tragedy. He concluded with seven lessons he has drawn from the past year.

These were his exact words:

  1. There’s no benefit to being sad. I believe that the purpose of mourning is to get to a point where you can remember your loved ones with a smile; otherwise, we’ll never want to think about them at all. The challenge is figuring out how to do it. With the help of all these projects and more, Am Yisrael (the Nation of Israel) has been the greatest help.
  2. There’s nothing like the Jewish people. From the shiva (week-long mourning period) onwards, we have felt that we did not lose three members of our family of seven, but three from our family of 14 million.
  3. Tzaddikim (righteous people) live forever: They never die. Rashaim (evil people) never live, even when they are alive. This also applies to nations. The Jewish people from all past generations are still living through their contributions to our lives today. Our enemies have contributed nothing but destruction and are forgettable even while they live.
  4. I’m grateful for the 30 years I knew Lucy, the 20 years I knew Maia, and the 15 years I knew Rina. Your impact on this world is immeasurable. What you have achieved in half a lifetime, or quarter of a lifetime, is more than most of us could achieve in 10 lifetimes. It’s a challenge to always think of the good times, but that’s what’s needed.
  5. The best treatment for destruction is to build. The first mitzvah of the Shulchan Aruch (Code of Jewish Law) is to jump out of bed in the morning like a lion. This means: You must have something to jump out of bed for. Every Jew must have at least one passion he or she is working on at any time, and that’s what gets you up in the morning. If you are struggling to get out of bed, find your passion. Friday morning, planting fruit trees in Efrat was fulfilling the biblical mitzvah of Yishuv Ha’Aretz, settling the land. We will continue to build, we will continue to plant.
  6. There’s no youth like our Jewish youth. They have get up and go, they build, they invent, and they are the bravest generation in our history. I am proud of every one of them. They are the or le’goyim (light unto the nations). At the shiva, some 17-year-old boys from the community asked if they could build a viewpoint (lookout) in Efrat in memory of the girls, and I apparently agreed. Nine months later, they showed me what they had achieved  – and the Mitzpeh HaDegel (Flag Outlook) would be a victory for a professional landscape company, let alone a group of 17-year-old boys who raised the funds themselves and taught themselves how to build pergolas and plant trees from YouTube videos.
  7. Finally, I learned that what matters is not my emunah in Hashem, my faith in God, but rather Hashem’s faith in me. Every morning I say “Modeh Ani… Rabah Emunatecha” Thank you, Hashem, for Your faith in me. We can appreciate the infinite miracles in our lives – the friends, the family, Am Yisrael, Eretz Yisrael (the Land of Israel) – but if Hashem agreed for us to wake up this morning, He has a purpose for us. Our job is not to question Him but to find that purpose. Today there are hundreds of thousands of Jews in Israel fighting for our people and for freedom in the world – fulfilling their purpose, and millions of others are supporting them.

The daughters speak

Gathered together for strength and support, the three remaining Dee children ascended the platform, where both daughters spoke about their mother and sisters. At the evening event, Keren and Tali, who are fully bilingual, spoke in Hebrew; at the memorial ceremony at the cemetery in Kfar Etzion the next morning, they delivered their comments in English.

Keren revealed the truth about living post-trauma by contrasting her daily reality with what she described as “the beautiful image I built for myself from the outside.”

“At night, every thought and feeling that comes to mind keeps switching to difficult things. I am flooded with memories; tossing and turning over and over and unable to sleep. At about five, I get out of bed in despair and decide to spend the remaining time ‘til morning on my phone.”

She then recounted what her day would be like if her mother and sisters were still alive, including a poignant image of finding her mother in the kitchen baking “some indulgent chocolate banana muffins that we could take with us; and reminding us, of course, that it’s important to put on sunscreen so we don’t have wrinkles and to drink a lot because it’s hot today.”

Keren mused about the “Orphan’s Kaddish” she finds in her prayerbook and how she realized, with a start, that this memorial prayer now refers to her. She concluded with a thought she learned from her father that she said “helps me continue.”

“What if our life was supposed to look like this? What if God predestined an allotted time for them to be with us? For 18 years? And then we were meant to go on alone?” she asked.

“And then I ask myself, if I had the option and I knew that my life would look like this from the beginning, would I take it or give it up?

“Everything in life that made me who I am today, I learned from them,” Keren said.

“Mummy: If it’s doing hessed (acts of kindness), giving, caring, cooking like crazy, forgiving, being a listening ear but always remembering that there is something more to aspire to and to move forward, then that’s what she’ll do.

“Maia: Demanding what you deserved, dressing in style, giving good advice, putting effort into what is important to you, loving the Torah, and always listening to others.

“Rina: Loving this country, being righteous with complete faith that this is the way, being humble, loving and believing that everyone has something special of their own.

“In short, of course I would choose life!

“Mummy, Maia, and Rina, I believe that you are still by my side in every dilemma I have, every new beginning, in every frustration and in every achievement. Thank you for being with me during the most beautiful 18 years of my life, and now I must move on: not by replacing you, or forgetting you, but with you by my side and above.”

TALI, the younger Dee sister, spoke about all the times, places, and circumstances when she misses her mother and sisters.

In a heartrending admission, Tali shared that “I don’t have a mother’s voice in my life. There is no one to wake me up in the morning and push me out of bed. Everyone wants to make it easy for me, they tell me to (have) compassion on myself – but I often just need your demanding voice. I miss your hug. There is nothing in the world that can replace it. And no human being can fill that place. Someone who will take me with my temper, to whom I can show all my hard sides – and no matter what, you will always love me.”

Moving from the personal to the national, she said, “And during this year, our nation has also turned upside down. After the attack (on October 7), I thought a lot about the difference between soldiers who knowingly put themselves at risk, and my family, who just wanted to go on holiday.

“But I understood that we chose to live here in this country. And we were always aware of the dangers present in this choice. The home front and the battle front are close to each other in our country,” Tali said.

“Many people are now experiencing what I experienced and I want to tell them it gets easier, but I’m not sure I can say that. There are days when I really manage to be happy. But there is no pill that can cure the pain; there is no pill that fixes everything.

“…I’m not the same person after everything that happened to me. This story is such a central part of my identity that you can’t really know me without it. I’ve grown up. I have a broader perspective. Things I cried about a year ago are not the things I cry about now,” she said.

“In many ways, this is what is happening to our nation. We went through something huge: terrible. And we can’t go back to being what we were before. We sacrificed too much for this. We need to grow up. Our prayers should increase.”

Tali concluded her remarks by speaking of how her mother and sisters still influence her. “Thanks to Rina, I now pay much more attention to the people around me: say hello to everyone, even the girls I’m less friendly with. To be a better friend, to reduce my ego; to have a simple joy.

“Thanks to Maia, when I’m in midrasha I try harder and invest more, and I’m not ashamed to ask questions.

“Thanks to Mummy, I try to be more flexible.

“Some days it’s harder to feel it, but sometimes I feel like I have three angels of my own,” she revealed. “I feel protected.”

A close friend speaks

In a raw and deeply personal speech delivered at the cemetery, Lucy’s close friend Danja Keesing related an amusing story about how her friend convinced her to wake up in time to take an exercise class together early Sunday mornings. “Sunday mornings, I liked you least of all, I have to admit. Actually, I didn’t like you at all. No one is perky on Sunday morning after Shabbos… besides Lucy.”

Lucy’s enthusiasm eventually won Keesing over. “That is your essence, Lucy: believing in others – maybe even many times more than you ever believed in yourself.”

Later she declared, “You loved so, so hard; tried so, so hard. Had so many love and care goals as a wife and a mother that sometimes I thought to myself, ‘What is the intensity? What is the rush? Breathe. Take less to heart. Don’t work so hard. Don’t try so hard.’

“Now I know that your soul knew that what others do in 70, 80, or 90 years, you had to do in less than 50.”

The evening memorial program also featured a siyum (conclusion celebration) on Mishna made by Maia’s friends, and words of Torah in Hebrew from Rabbanit Yemima Mizrachi. The evening ended with a group sing-along, filled with songs about Moshiach (Messiah) and redemption led by Shlomo Katz, who is a musician and rabbi of Shirat David in Efrat. 

The writer is a freelance journalist and expert on the non-Jewish awakening to Torah happening in our day. She is the editor of Ten From The Nations and Lighting Up The Nations.

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