When Rina and Maia Dee were killed in a terrorist shooting on Friday, April 7, the Dee family’s tight-knit community of Efrat leapt into action. When Lucy Dee succumbed to her life-threatening wounds on Monday, April 10, the number of communal activities increased yet again.
Efrat was founded in 1983 and has a population of 13,500. An estimated 50%-60% of Efrat residents are native English-speakers.
While Lucy still clung to life, Efrat residents organized in-person gatherings in private homes to recite Psalms for her recovery. Zayit Ra’anan, the synagogue where the Dee family prays each Shabbat, hosted several programs of Psalms and words of Torah, intended to offer hope and spiritual strength to the larger community. Each of these programs drew crowds of 500 or more.
In a gathering held on Sunday, April 9, just hours before the funerals of Maia and Rina, Zayit Ra’anan’s Rabbi Yair Binstock delivered powerful words of comfort to the community.
“Death is an illusion,” he said. “This is what Rabbi Kook teaches us at the end of his book Orot Hakodesh. Death seems like it is the end, but the truth is that death is actually a door through which a person passes to a world that is all good – to a higher world.
“What Rabbi Kook and the Kabbalistic sages are talking about are not just comforting words. We should know that one day will come when we finish our duty in this world and we will go to a world that is better, just as Rina and Maia are now close to God. This is, of course, certainly true, but the statement here is deeper.
“We need to remember that there is a world beyond. We have to live our lives here in this world, according to the parameters and values of the world beyond; to know that one day we will meet with God; to know that the reality that unfolds before our eyes is temporary and momentary; to know that we are truly expected to live our lives in higher dimensions of giving and doing, of holiness and Torah.”
Rabbanit Dena Rock related that a special women’s gathering took place this past Shabbat, while there was still hope that Lucy would yet pull through. “Lucy had been instrumental in maintaining the weekly women’s Shabbat shiur [Torah talk], tirelessly working, together with a handful of others, to schedule hosts and teachers.
“Though there was not originally supposed to be a meeting the Shabbat of Passover, it was only fitting, in the wake of the devastating news, to hold a gathering for a complete recovery for our beloved Lucy and [for the elevation of the souls of] her incredible daughters.
“Despite the last-minute notice, the lecture was packed with women and teens. In addition to the talk I delivered, we recited Psalms together, and then friends and neighbors shared stories, memories and reflections. It was a community coming together to share Torah and to share our grief, and to give each other whatever strength we could.”
A rolling Psalms WhatsApp group with close to 400 members was established last Saturday night. Diana Rosenfelder spoke about this effort. “I set up the group when I felt that I needed to do something, because I felt so helpless and heartbroken. What else can we do but pray? Having the WhatsApp group makes people feel connected and supported.”
“I set up the group when I felt that I needed to do something, because I felt so helpless and heartbroken. What else can we do but pray? Having the WhatsApp group makes people feel connected and supported.”Diana Rosenfelder
After Lucy’s death was announced, Rosenfelder posted an update. “We will continue to say Psalms until the end of the shiva [mourning period] in order to remember the dear people we lost and to give strength to their family and all of Am Yisrael.” More than 6,000 chapters of Psalms have been recited by this group so far.
In the small hours of the night after Maia and Rina’s funeral, family friend and Magen David Adom volunteer ambulance driver Danja Saidel-Keesing posted on Facebook. “It’s 2:34 a.m. I can’t sleep. I am exhausted. I don’t know which is more tired – my body or my soul. It has been one of the longest days.
“In the morning, I picked up an ambulance and we drove to the Abu Kabir Forensic Institute to pick up Maia and Rina, to accompany them to their last resting place. I am doing all this for Lucy because this is what friends do for one another.
“Wait. What am I saying? Is this what friends do for one and other? Friends go to exercise together! Friends don’t cancel on one another! That’s what friends do! Not pick up the bodies of one’s children to bring to their final resting place.”
The morning after the funeral, neighbor Moshe Rothchild wrote: “How is it possible that the world was not redeemed yesterday? How?
“I was at the funeral for the two angels Maia and Rina Dee, who were murdered in cold blood for the crime of living in Israel.
“To see my 16-year-old daughter, Shira, and her friends crying and to hear the wailing and heart-wrenching moans was simply unbearable. I have never heard wailing and moaning like I did yesterday.
“I just closed my eyes and let the tears roll down my cheeks. I was certain that God would redeem the world at that very moment. The wailing for sure reached the highest places in the heavens. How could He not?”
The youth of Efrat
The Dee family is well known among Efrat’s youth. Lucy was a much-loved English teacher at Yeshivat Bnei Akiva Orot Yehuda. Both Maia and Rina were first participants and then leaders in the Ezra youth movement, and, according to Avraham Pollak of the Efrat Youth Department, Maia “volunteered with a local initiative called Osher, mentoring children with special needs,” and Rina was helping establish a branch of Ezra in one of Efrat’s newer neighborhoods.
“In light of all this,” Pollak elaborated, “and from the shocking circumstances of the incident, it was clear to us that the case would affect all the young men and women in the city. In such cases, naturally, the youth experience a lot of pain, have many questions, may experience a crisis of faith and feel anger.
“As the local youth department, it is our job to embrace, give room for questions and direct our amazing youth to positive action in memory of the girls and their mother.”
According to Pollak, “When the terrible murder of Rina and Maia Dee became known, the representatives of the forum gathered in order to map all the circles to which Rina, Maia and the other family members belong, with the goal of giving the youth the hug and love they need in difficult moments and to provide necessary services.”
Pollak explained that Efrat’s youth and young professionals department, in cooperation with the Social Services Department, the educational psychologists, the Social Services Department and the regional Resilience Center, has a goal of giving “space and strengthen[ing] initiatives that arose from the youth and their parents,” and creating “meetings and intervention circles under the guidance of professionals.”
In one such meeting, the Resilience Center of Gush Etzion, in cooperation with Efrat’s Educational Psychology Department and Social Services Department, held a Zoom meeting for parents on the topic of “Tools to Help Our Children Cope.”
Pollak said, “We are inundated with amazing community initiatives, and encourage every initiative that comes our way.”
One such initiative was announced by Rina’s friends who encouraged youth in Efrat to adopt a Dee family custom on the last day of Passover. Each was asked to write five things that they appreciate about their next oldest sibling, put the note in a decorated envelope and send a picture of the envelope to the organizers, who forwarded them to the Dee family. Rina’s friends ended their appeal with the words, “A hug for everyone. May we know good days [of] redemption and comfort.”
Another grassroots initiative, dubbed the Dee Family Pirke Avot Project, began in the UK and was rapidly adopted in Israel. Dalia Bornstein and Libby Levey, two young women from the UK, explained: “Last year during [seminary], we had the privilege of spending Shabbat in family Dee’s wonderful home. Just as they used to in Hendon and Radlett [UK communities where they served as a rabbinic family], they welcomed us with huge smiles and an abundance of love.
“Rabbi Leo and Rebbetzin Lucy explained that, since the pandemic, the Dees learn Pirkei Avot [Ethics of the Fathers] each Friday night after the meal. Together we learnt a few mishnayot and discussed ways to embody the principles as people and bring them into our everyday life. It was so powerful.
“The family sitting around the table bringing the light of Torah into our lives with the aim of becoming better people was a moment that inspired us and is something we hope to emulate. We want families around the world to learn Pirkei Avot like we did at the Dees’.”
The WhatsApp group Levey and Bornstein created on April 11 reached the group size limit of 1,024 members almost immediately. A second group was created and filled, and then another and another, until more than 8,000 individuals signed up to study Pirke Avot at their Shabbat table each week for the elevation of the souls of Lucy, Maia and Rina.
On the days of the funerals, hundreds of local residents hung Israeli flags on windows, fences, cars and storefronts and stood all along the route to the cemetery, waving Israeli flags in order to express love and support for the family.
A massive meal train, covering over 300 individual meals, was filled almost instantly. A WhatsApp group of 200 neighbors was created to cover every possible need the Dee family would have during the week of shiva, including organizing meals, setting and cleaning up, keeping the house supplied with whatever is needed, and making arrangements for a tent to accommodate the large numbers of visitors coming to comfort the mourners. The group includes seven cocaptains, each responsible for a different cluster of needs, and a spreadsheet filled with locals taking shifts during the week of shiva.
Just before the last day of Passover, a chocolate bar with a note from residents of the nearby community of Neveh Daniel was hand-delivered to each household in the Dees’ neighborhood. Attached to the chocolate bar was a note that read:
“To the families of Zayit in Efrat, ‘For these we weep.’ Dear family, during these difficult days, a beloved and precious family from your community experienced a terrible personal and national loss. We of the yishuv of Neveh Daniel join in your sorrow and in the grief of the nation. We embrace you, we offer our strength, we cry with you, we love you and care about you, and we pray that God give you strength to support the Dee family and be strong for them during the coming days and beyond.”
Prior to Lucy’s death, Efrat Mayor Oded Revivi told The Jerusalem Post, “I am proud of Efrat and its residents. [The night before the daughters’ funeral], residents from all of the various neighborhoods of Efrat gathered to console one another through prayer, songs and crying together. I was overwhelmed with the sense of communal unity. The leadership of our rabbis was on display as they provided some needed spiritual space for the youth and the friends of the two sisters to channel their mourning in a way that provided some needed comfort.
“At the funeral, we stood in the presence of an incredible family who stood with great poise and restraint while burying their two daughters/sisters and who managed to bring the hearts of our people together through their words ‘Am Yisrael hai’ [the people of Israel lives].
“It is remarkable that the family that is bearing such an excruciating loss, so gracefully opted to look at the bright side and thank the countless people who have helped them since the tragedy befell them on Friday, their broad support network within Efrat, while focusing on the beauty of the Jewish people. May they find consolation for the severe tragedy that befell them.
“We have no other country; and there is no city like Efrat that knows how to turn a disaster into a time of empowerment, prayer, love for others and bringing our hearts closer together.”
The evening before Lucy’s funeral, bereaved husband and father Leo Dee held a press conference, hosted by Revivi, in which he asked the world to recognize April 10 as Dees Day – a day to differentiate between good and evil.
Dee asked every peace-loving person around the world to post a picture of themselves with an Israeli flag, or just a picture of an Israeli flag, on social media. The hashtag #DeesDay was rapidly adopted, as thousands of people around the world responded to his request. •