Spreading Light in the Face of Tragedy
“Maia, I know you’re up there, explaining to the Creator with your polite smile that this is all a mistake… that you aren’t supposed to be there. There are still a million things you have to do…You’re supposed to raise a family to be proud of, the kind of Zionist family that you grew up in, full of love… Your sister Rina’s hand is entwined in yours. Of course, you would never leave her alone…”
These are the opening words of the heartbreaking eulogy offered by Naama Frankel, Rosh Midrasha of Midreshet Lindenbaum-Lod, at the funeral of alumna Maia Dee z”l and her sister, Rina z”l – two beautiful souls whose horrific murder in a terror attack over Pesach stunned the entire Jewish world.
Just two days later the girls’ mother Lucy succumbed to the wounds she sustained in the attack. As he eulogized his beloved wife of 25 years, Rabbi Leo Dee focused on the gifts he was given and the lessons these precious souls taught through their actions – lessons from which we must all learn: the importance of living with purpose and with joy, imbuing our lives with Torah, focusing on what each of us can do to help others, and making the world a better place.
In the Dee family’s hometown of Efrat, throughout Israel and indeed across the globe, as we mourned and continue to mourn, we continue to draw strength from Rabbi Dee and follow his directive.
“It could have been any of us”
The Dee family is intertwined with Ohr Torah Stone in many ways. Rabbi Leo Dee attained semicha from Ohr Torah Stone before he and Lucy set out to serve as a rabbinical couple in London. Maia graduated from Neveh Channah High School for Girls and then studied at Midreshet Lindenbaum-Lod. One of the Dee sisters, Tali, is currently a 12th grader at Neveh Channah, and their youngest brother, Yehudah, is enrolled to begin Neveh Shmuel Yeshiva High School in the fall. The OTS family – students, faculty, staff and members of the Board – came together to learn Shas Mishnayot in memory of Lucy, Maia and Rina, with a siyyum planned for the shloshim.
As our schools considered how to embrace students and faculty, provide the emotional support so desperately needed in the aftermath of these tragic murders, and memorialize Lucy, Maia and Rina, they were all inspired by Leo’s strength and resolve to carry forward the values embodied by his wife and daughters.
Neveh Channah opened the school on Saturday evening for an “Erev Chizuk” – an “Evening of Strength” – in the midst of Pesach vacation, one day after the murders and the night before the funeral for Maia and Rina.
Current students and alumnae who were classmates of Maia’s came together to share their memories and support one another. One alumna shared that she is currently serving in the IDF as a Casualties Officer, traveling the country to visit injured soldiers and liaising with families of the fallen. “Through my work in the army, I help families through these tragedies,” she said. “I simply can’t believe I’m now on the other side, dealing with the pain and loss on a personal level.”
Another student, also named Maia, said, “When the names were released after the attack, people were calling to check that it wasn’t me who was killed. Why her and not me? It could have been any of us.”
“Ahavat Yisrael B’Neshama” – Loving Israel with all Your Soul
Upon returning to school following Pesach vacation, Neveh Channah students were greeted with a wall of photos of Maia with her classmates during her years at the school, under the banner “Ahavat Yisrael B’Neshama” – Loving Israel with all your Soul. Over and over, people have spoken about the Dee family’s love of the land, of the people, and their dedication to improving the world around them.
Because so many students throughout the Ohr Torah Stone network are residents of Efrat and Gush Etzion, many knew the Dee family from elementary school, community youth groups or the neighborhood. As a result, all of the Ohr Torah Stone schools in the area are providing additional hours of counseling and emotional support. Teams of teachers immediately touched base with students to check in and provide an “address” to turn to for help. And special training programs are enabling the teachers, who are also reeling from the attack, to better help their students – to provide safe spaces for questions and to direct the youth toward positive initiatives that would memorialize the values embodied by Lucy, Maia and Rina.”
“Maia was involved with every aspect of Etrog,” says Sharon Brand, director of Neveh Channah’s extra-curricular program which gives students a weekly infusion of spirituality through Torah learning, singing and special Shabbat programs. “She was so pure. She had such positive energy. It’s hard to believe this is real.”
Brand brought Etrog students and alumnae together in her home as Pesach ended, for an evening of learning and singing. “To connect to each other and to Jewish tradition was the appropriate thing to do to memorialize Maia and begin to process our grief,” she relates.
A Love of Torah and Tradition
Similarly, Midreshet Lindenbaum-Lod invited the Class of 2022 back to Lod for a meaningful Shabbat remembering their beloved classmate Maia through the things that characterized her life: prayer, song, and Torah learning. On Friday, the young women participated in a writing workshop with Rosh Midrasha Naama Frankel designed to help them process their thoughts and feelings. They discussed Jewish thought related to mourning with Rosh Midrasha Rabbi Dr. Udi Abramowitz and studied faith and crisis with their former Talmud teacher, Rabbi Roi Zamir.
Throughout, they sang and gained strength from being together with friends and teachers who knew and loved Maia as they did.
Torah learning was central to Maia’s character. “Maia learned in chevruta with each and every one of her peers at Midreshet Lindenbaum,” says Rabbi Abramowitz, echoing the words of Naama Frankel in her eulogy: “You learned all of Torah and the Prophets, and you enjoyed it so much. You told me, ‘My learning has made the Tanakh part of me.'”
Inspired to Better the World
The Dee family raised their children to be socially conscious and involved in the world around them and in fact, before embarking upon National Service, Maia was intimately involved in volunteer work in Lod – running bat mitzvah preparation classes for girls, packaging food for needy families, tutoring underprivileged children and more. In gratitude, the city of Lod has asked Rabbi Leo Dee to speak at the city’s Jerusalem Day ceremony in memory of Maia, Rina and Lucy.
Another meaningful memorial initiative, the Pirkei Avot Iniative, was also born from the Dee family’s dedication to living and spreading Torah values.
“Last year, we had the privilege of spending Shabbat in family Dee’s wonderful home,” relate Libbey Levy and Dalia Bornstein, childhood friends of Maia from London who spent their gap year in Midreshet Lindenbaum Jerusalem and MMY, respectively.
“After a lovely dinner, Rabbi Leo and Rebbetzin Lucy explained that with the onset of the COVID–19 pandemic, the family began learning Pirkei Avot each week following the meal. Together, we learned a few lines and discussed how to embody their principles in real life,” explains Libby.
“Sitting around the table with the family and bringing the light of Torah into our lives with the aim of becoming better people inspired us and is something we hope to emulate,” adds Dalia.
Dalia and Libby began the Pirkei Avot Project to do just that. Each week, they send out a verse from Pirkei Avot with ideas to discuss around the Shabbat table. Within days thousands of people worldwide had joined – to honor the memories of Lea, Maia and Rena through learning Torah and improving the world around us.
The First Yom HaZikaron
The State of Israel marked Yom Hazikaron – Memorial Day for fallen IDF soldiers and victims of terror – just two weeks after Lucy, Maia and Rina were buried.
“24,213. This is number of people who have fallen in the line of duty since the establishment of the State of Israel or killed in terror attacks and amongst them now three more of our own – our beloved Lucy, Rina, and Maia Dee,” said Neveh Channah’s headmaster, Rabbi Dr. Ronen Ben David at the school’s official ceremony.
“Today, we mourn their terrible murder as a nation, even before we have reached the shloshim. Everyone who knew Maia, Rina or Lucy, anyone who knows the family, is going through their own personal mourning process,” Ben David continued. “We, as a school, are trying to focus on the message, ‘Choose Life.’ The pain doesn’t pass, though it may ease over time. The decision to choose life is a legacy for ourselves and for our people.”