The day of Lucy Dee’s funeral felt like it was something out of a movie – rainy, cold, depressing. It’s what anyone would have expected growing up on Hollywood representations of such events. But it was totally out of the ordinary for this season in Israel. Passover in this region is the time of rejuvenation. Spring is now usually in full swing. But not that day. It was as if the universe was reflecting our sense of loss.
Israel is known for massive gatherings at such tragedies, and there have been far too many of them. It was estimated that some 10,000 people congregated for Maia and Rina’s funeral, Lucy’s daughters, who were murdered in the same terrorist attack and were buried just two days prior. Since this funeral was hours before the final day of Passover and most were busy with preparations, it was uncertain what the turnout would be. It ended up being people as far as the eye could see.
During my 15 years of living in Israel, I’ve never attended one of these funerals. I’ve made plenty of shiva (condolence) calls but I always felt the funeral was more of a time for the family and close friends to grieve. However, in this case, the victims were members of the Efrat community, where I live. In addition, the patriarch of the family, Leo Dee, and I studied together for rabbinic ordination. I felt that I should be there to support him and his three remaining children.
As much as I couldn’t imagine the outside world still functioning, it did intrude, and I was forced to field messages about upcoming britot (circumcisions), as I am a mohel. One of my families was dealing with jaundice issues and wanted to make sure the final details were set for just after the holiday. I assured them we were on for the day after Passover.
In addition, I kept thinking throughout the service that I needed to do something to protect my family. I started questioning my choice of making aliyah. “Maybe we should run away,” I thought. “Maybe it would be safer to raise our children in America.” But then the news of mass shootings in Louisville, Kentucky, was reported, and I knew the thought was foolish.
This is the first terrorist attack that our eldest daughter has had to fully process. She’s now old enough to understand that the world is not as safe as we’d all like it to be. “Why don’t we move to America?” she asked me. It was like hearing my own thoughts being spoken to me.
I explained that there are dangers like this no matter where we would go, and then I reiterated how important the Jewish State is. “Maybe we should never leave the house,” she replied.
I ALSO EXPLAINED that there is only one answer to hatred like this, and that’s teaching Torah and Jewish values in the lived world. I told her that the notion of being a chosen people means we have a message for the world. And that message is that there is a God who demands us to answer His moral calling. If we were to hide in our home then we’d lose the fight of good over evil.
So many of us have been engulfed by the tragedy the Dee family has had to endure. And that’s partially because of how heartbreaking it is. But it’s also because no one is embodying the call for moral clarity like Leo Dee is. If anyone would have an excuse to slink away into his home, at least just for shiva (mourning period), it would be Leo and his family. But he’s doing the exact opposite. He’s called on all of us to double down on efforts to speak truth to power and he’s reminded us that Am Yisrael – the people of Israel – is one nation, despite our disputes.
The brit just after Passover at first seemed to come and go as many have before. When all my duties were done, the father implored me to partake in the celebratory meal that followed. Since this was their second son I had the honor to be the mohel for, I agreed and I was really glad that I did.
At the meal, the father spoke about how they chose the name Eitan Shlomo in honor of the Dee family’s tragedy. “Eitan,” the father explained, “is connected to the word atid, which means future. And Shlomo is for shalom. We hope that our son will be the start of the new, lasting peace.”
The concept of moshiach (messiah) has never been central to my Judaism. I’ve always believed that the end of days will come when we figure out how to all live in peace. But the morning of Lucy’s funeral I prayed at the Dee’s synagogue because Rav Shlomo Katz, an Efrat rabbi and masterful prayer leader, was leading Hallel. I wasn’t sure beforehand if I had the fortitude to sing at a time like this.
But the spirit in the room that morning was a single voice. We were all crying out to Hashem, “Enough! Haven’t the Jewish people been through enough? Can’t all of this end?” Perhaps not coincidentally, the Dee family’s name is spelled Dalet Yud in Hebrew, the same letters that spell the Hebrew word “Dai” – enough.
The truth is, as gray as the day of the funeral was, there was a moment as Lucy Dee’s body was being lowered into the ground that the clouds parted and sunshine broke through. It felt like a ray of hope.
May it be that our prayers are soon answered, and God deems it enough and we see the beginning of eternal peace among us all.
The writer is a rabbi, a wedding officiant, and a mohel who performs britot (ritual circumcisions) and conversions across the world. Based in Efrat, he is the founder of Magen HaBrit, an organization protecting the practice of brit milah and the children who undergo it.