Less than a day after the Passover Seder, while still basking in the afterglow of the camaraderie that we just enjoyed with our family around the table, the phone rang.
“There was just a terrorist attack in the Jordan Valley and the victims are residents of Efrat.”
From that point on, the relaxing holiday was shattered. Like clockwork, city services, which were largely shut down due to the holiday, quickly fired up as the city’s social services, education and police departments immediately got to work.
Within minutes, the picture became awfully clear. The daughters of a Zionist family who had made aliyah from England to Efrat and were traveling to spend the rest of the holiday in northern Israel were the victims. Within the awful shock and pain of the news, the resiliency of our community was on display, allowing us to power through, willing us to persevere.
When the bullets of the terrorists pierced the pure hearts of Maia, Rina and Lucy Dee, they had hoped to pierce our hearts as well. They didn’t understand that we as a people are unstoppable.
The hearts in Efrat and the State of Israel were certainly wounded and scarred when this beautiful family was appallingly ripped apart. We will never be the same. But we will also not be defeated.
In fact, we were able to counter the wishes of the terrorists, as Efrat’s youth did not cower, but instead, led the adults, by going out en masse to the town squares hugging, crying, singing and consoling each other, proudly wrapped in Israeli flags. Our spirit was not broken.
All of our efforts were focused on providing support for our youth who were coming to terms with the unbearable pain, a pain all too familiar to those who lived through the experience of the Second Intifada. I wanted to just mourn and cry with them – anything to blunt the pain.
However, our youth were not content with merely mourning over what had been cruelly taken from them, but instead insisted on taking the responsibility to find a way to embrace and strengthen the Dee family, which they accomplished through the images of our youth wrapped in Israeli flags and singing together, which were constantly aired on TV and throughout social media.
Coming together in support of the bereaved
I look in awe at the army of people who dropped their own family and holiday celebrations to selflessly take care of their own community. The social service providers, members of the council’s education system, the council’s rabbis, all showed up as a united front to lend a hand however they could, to help their neighbors get through this nightmare.
Together we cried and went out into the streets, forming a human chain from the house of the Dee family, all waving flags, offering comfort. More than 10,000 people attended the funeral at the cemetery.
The bullets that sought to divide and weaken us accomplished the opposite. In one moment, we became a united front that would stop at nothing to support the Dee family. The community has become united – one heart, one hope, one prayer, one family.
AS SOMEONE who closely accompanied the family from Friday afternoon, when we all gathered at Hadassah-University Medical Center, through the funerals, I have observed a lot. In these few days, we went through countless heart-wrenching moments. Four times the residents of Efrat took to the streets to wave the Israeli flag with pride to strengthen the Dee Family when they were on their way to and from funerals.
There was one particular moment that stood out. On Tuesday, an hour before Lucy’s funeral, amid a downpour with heavy fog, thousands of residents of Efrat and Gush Etzion formed a 10 km.-long human chain from the Dee family home to the cemetery.
As the one leading the convoy, I couldn’t stop crying. At the funeral, the husband/father Leo shared in his eulogy: “We felt like a royal caravan, when everyone goes out waving flags. However, in a royal procession, we know none of the wavers really cares; but we knew that everyone who stood on the way cares about us.”
Rona Ramon, of blessed memory, after burying her husband (Col. Ilan Ramon, who died in the 2003 Columbia space shuttle disaster) and son (Capt. Assaf Ramon, who died in a 2009 IAF training accident) and then battling cancer herself, said: “Mourning has no number; it will always be with us. This leads to very difficult questions of ‘why?’
“The uncertainty led me to fulfill a dream and learn how to grow out of the crisis. The hand of fate strikes us all, and what is left for us is the choice – how we choose to stand up and which sounds we choose to make in our world.”
Similarly, the Efrat community is asking those same questions, and like Rona, is choosing to find the points of light in the darkness.
We have not been broken, and we won’t break.
We are in pain, but united.
We cry, but are undaunted.
We bury our dead in the ground, and raise our flag high.
The nation of Israel lives!
The writer is the mayor of Efrat.