On Friday, April 7, the second day of Passover, at 12:30, I received two text messages from an old friend who I hadn’t seen in a long time. He wrote, “Jonathan, let me know you are all safe. I have heard the news about what happened in the Bikah (Jordan Valley). They say they are from Efrat.”
As my family and I live in Efrat, I realized from his message that something had happened. Someone was probably hurt, and he became the first of many checking in on me to make sure we were OK. I had no idea what happened, but soon enough, the news was out: two terrorists drove by a car driving in the Jordan Valley and opened fire on a woman and her two daughters just two hours earlier. Then the terrorists turned around, and drove up to the car they had just attacked, and opened fire at point-blank range. The women were neighbors of ours, a 4-minute walk away.
As is customary, names of people killed in war or terrorist attacks are not officially released until after all relatives have been notified. Making that task harder was that many relatives were overseas, observing the second day of Passover. Nevertheless, the word got out in no time, and our community was devastated, particularly those closest to the family.
Because of pictures posted online, in no time, Rabbi Leo Dee and his three surviving children were on the scene where sisters Maia and Rina had been pronounced dead. Their mother, Lucy, was critically injured and airlifted to Jerusalem, where specialists were brought in to save her life and where Rabbi Dee and his children raced off to be.
On Sunday, April 9th, Rabbi Leo Dee and his three surviving children buried Maia and Rina. Thousands lined the streets of our town bearing Israeli flags in solidarity and to comfort the family. An estimated 10,000 attended the unthinkable double funeral.
Days later, realizing that there was no medical hope for Lucy to recover, the family affirmed her wishes and donated her organs, saving the lives of five Israelis, including one Israeli Arab, and then a second funeral with even more people. Some weeks later, I choked back tears watching the video of Lucy’s surviving children listening to their mother’s heart beating in the chest of the woman whose life had been saved because of Lucy’s death.
All this is unthinkable and something that nobody can imagine, but for my neighbor, Rabbi Leo Dee, and his children and their extended family, this was and is their reality. It’s only been three months and they and many in our community are still devastated. Countless acts of kindness, donations to projects in their memory and to comfort people most devastated, and numerous Torah (Bible) study programs have taken place in memory of Lucy, Maia, and Rina. For the foreseeable future, that will continue.
Rabbi Leo Dee is circumspect. Of course, he’s grieving and left to be the single parent to his surviving children. But he’s also looking forward. At his daughters’ funeral, someone spoke, noting that the Hebrew for “why” (lama) is similar to the Hebrew for “what for” or “for what purpose” (le ma). I don’t know that I would ever be so forward-thinking.
Rabbi Dee would rather never be in the spotlight as he has been. At all. But he has been. A lot. And his voice is one of moral clarity that’s refreshing and needed. I just wish we could be hearing his words on an academic level, not from a man whose wife and daughters were executed in cold blood.
Speaking with him also is an opportunity to comfort someone who is mourning. That’s a Biblical obligation according to Jewish tradition. Countless people reached out to me, knowing they are also from Efrat, asking how the Dees are doing, what can be done, and dozens of specific questions. Recently, I was privileged to host Rabbi Dee in a conversation for the “Inspiration from Zion” podcast, which brings tears to one’s eyes as well as strength for a vision looking forward.
Is he angry? How has his faith and relationship with God been impacted? What brings him and his family comfort? What would he say to the family members of the terrorists who murdered his family? What’s his vision for coexistence and peace with our Palestinian Arab neighbors?
As much as Rabbi Dee has been in the media recently, both the domestic Hebrew press as well as overseas, he believes that world media is complicit in perpetuating terror. He speaks of truth, using a metaphor of how the word is spelled in Hebrew (emet) and what that means. Rabbi Dee notes that the opposite of truth, lies, often focus on one detail that’s not completely inaccurate, which has an element of truth but is twisted to portray a different perspective that is far from the actual truth. Often, this is done with malice. Either way, it leaves unsuspecting and unknowledgeable readers or viewers misinformed, at best.
Rabbi Dee has particularly harsh words for CNN. He says it is the worst, even evil. CNN, he explains, tells an anti-truth. Not a lie, which has as part of it a kernel of truth that’s been manipulated, but a reversal of truth. He knows personally. Shortly after the murder of his wife and daughters, CNN’s British-Iranian host Christiane Amanpour made a vulgar comment, noting that the Dees were killed in a “shootout.” This implied that Lucy, Maia and Rina were terrorists, or at least were armed and somehow perhaps defending themselves, and the actual terrorists were victims, defending themselves. This is an obscene perversion of truth. It would not be a surprise to hear that Rabbi Dee may yet hold them accountable despite a tepid apology.
May the Dee family continue to be comforted by endless acts of kindness, studying Torah, and inspiration in memory of the lives of Lucy, Maia, and Rina.