From Moav and the UK to the Hills of Beit Lechem
In Memory of Lucy Dee hy”d
BY RABBANIT SHANI TARAGIN
Nearly a month has passed since that fateful Friday of Chol HaMoed Pesach when Lucy (Leah) Dee (48), from the Zayit neighborhood in Efrat and an olah (immigrant) from the United Kingdom, was critically injured in a terror attack near the Hamra junction in the Jordan Valley on her way to Teveriya. Terrorists fired on the car she was driving and then shot over 20 bullets at close range, killing her daughters Maia (20) and Rina (15), who were in the car with her. Lucy was evacuated by military helicopter to Hadassah Medical Center in Jerusalem. Unfortunately, despite the heroic efforts of the medical team, she succumbed to her wounds three days later and was laid to rest next to her daughters in Kfar Etzion, across the road from my home in Alon Shvut. Thousands attended her funeral, alternating between songs and sobs. The heart-wrenching eulogies of her husband, Rabbi Leo Dee, and her surviving children, Keren, Tali and Yehuda, will not soon be forgotten.
When tragedy strikes here in Eretz Yisrael, we feel the pain on a personal level; every Jew is a family member. But certain losses hit even closer to home. I had the merit to learn regularly with Lucy since she made Aliyah in 2014, through shiurim offered by the Women’s Beit Midrash of Efrat and Gush Etzion. She assiduously took notes so as not to miss a single word, and after each shiur would wait to say “thank you” and explain how that shiur would change her perspective and actions going forward. Bumping into each other in the supermarket, we would continue our Torah discussions in the fruit and vegetable aisles. As Yom Yerushalayim approaches, I recall how she would sit with friends at the annual Women’s Beit Midrash shiur and breakfast with tears in her eyes, appreciative of the opportunity to learn and celebrate only a few miles from our cherished city.
As I think of Lucy and remember her together with her close friends and neighbors, I am struck by numerous remarkable parallels between Lucy and another mother from the hills of Beit Lechem: Ruth. Both Ruth and Lucy left their homelands, their birthplace and their families to come to the fields of Judea. They were not raised as observant Jews, but both Ruth and Lucy pursued lives of Torah observance. At the shiva, the daughter of the Chabad rebbetzin who taught Lucy many years ago spoke about Lucy’s unusual curiosity and commitment at the young age of twelve!
Having studied Asian and Near-Eastern Studies at Oxford, Lucy lived in Japan for a year while keeping Shabbat and kashrut, and later traveled the world with her husband Leo. She served as rebbetzin of the communities of Hendon and Radlett, and like Ruth the Moabite, her priority was her family and their well-being, instilling in her children the values of Torat chessed. Like Ruth, Lucy taught through example and devotion. Rachel Wilk, a close friend of Lucy’s, said that Leo and Lucy insisted their children not only adjust to Israel but also become contributors to Israeli society, in shul, school, and especially in their youth organizations. Lucy modeled this way of life by regularly attending shul with her four daughters and organizing community events and shiurim.
Lucy organized the weekly Shabbat shiur in the Zayit. Her long-time “shiur chavruta” and next-door neighbor, Annie Pomerantz, reflected upon Lucy as “a phenomenal teacher, making it into a mission to teach English and invest in her students. She never spoke lashon hara. If she didn’t agree, she wouldn’t argue but remain quiet.”
Caroline Peyser-Bollag, a family friend, remarked, “Lucy was always interested in making holiday celebrations fun for her family. She loved connecting with people and joining together to celebrate. Lucy would love to hear or share a dvar Torah and then think together about how she could turn it into a conversation starter to engage her kids at the Shabbat table. She put a lot of thought into her parenting and into providing her children with enriching and meaningful experiences.” Valerie Pessin described her as an “extraordinary hands-on mother” who was, in Elana Abelow-Kronenberg’s words, “idealistic, an incredible wife and an extraordinary friend.”
Rena May-Juni shared how touched she was when Lucy proactively reached out and befriended her soon after her Aliyah. “Lucy craved deep friendships and worked tirelessly to maintain these friendships, despite our busy lives as mothers and professional women.”
Ruth was willing to sacrifice her past to provide Naomi with a future. Not only did she enable Naomi to safely return to the Land, but she also provided her with a child through Boaz to perpetuate her family. Like Ruth, Lucy left her homeland and became a vibrant member of Am Yisrael in Eretz Yisrael, committed to her family and community in the same hills of Yehuda. Both had struggles yet remained focused on building, surviving and thriving with relentless dedication.
Ruth could not have known the impact her loyalty and kindness toward Naomi would have on future generations. Chazal explain that the story of Ruth was canonized to teach us the rewards bestowed upon those who perform kindnesses (Ruth Rabbah 2:14). Ruth’s sacrifices were rewarded with her progeny as she became the “mother of royalty.” Like Ruth, Lucy could not have known the impact of her sacrifice, a sacrifice that has inspired our entire nation.
“What can I do to honor Lucy’s memory?” asked Rena May-Juni. “Be proactive in nourishing friendships, cherish every moment with my children, be forgiving to myself and others, encourage creativity, commit to physical fitness, harness my power as a woman to do good in the world, embrace my flaws and love my spouse and children unconditionally.”
Ruth did not live to see her great-grandson rise to royalty and begin our people’s messianic line. Yet after three millenia, we continue to learn from her and remember her as one of Israel’s greatest women of valor. United as one family and one nation, we hope and pray that we will learn from Lucy’s remarkable legacy. May we soon see the regards of her sacrifice.
Rabbanit Shani Taragin is Educational Director of Mizrachi and the Director of the Mizrachi-TVA Lapidot Educators’ Program.