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Tears, Strength, and Comfort 

Through a winding path of pain, hope, courage, and trust with Rabbi Leo Dee, after the brutal murders of his wife, Lucy, and daughters Maia and Rina Hy”d

Courtesy of the Dee Family

MY wife and I first met Leo and Lucy Dee in the lobby of the Ramada Hotel in Jerusalem early in 2008, prior to their joining us in Hendon Shul, Raleigh Close, as our first ever assistant rabbinic couple later that year. We last met them just over a year ago in Jerusalem, at the small and intimate second wedding of a widower with whom we had all been close in Hendon. These two meetings — in Yerushalayim Ir Hakodesh, so appropriate given the Dees’ great love of and commitment to Israel — bookended our 15 or so years of warm mutual connection.

The common denominator between those meetings was the positive energy, joie de vivre, goodness, and commitment they exuded. We, like every right-thinking person in this world, were devastated and shocked at how an act of absolute evil, senseless, and cruel madness changed a beautiful family’s life around in a matter of seconds.

During their three years with us in Hendon, prior to moving on to becoming solo rabbi and rebbetzin of the Radlett United Synagogue, the Dees very much endeared themselves to our community and brought new energy, focus, and dynamism to many areas of kehillah life. Their engagement with younger families and children facilitated the further revitalization of the community, and Rabbi Dee himself gained valuable experience in what was his first actual rabbinical position after four years of studying for and earning semichah in Israel.

As Reb Leo writes in the introduction to his book, Transforming the World (Urim Publications, 2016), he was a relatively late entrant into the rabbinate. Having initially graduated from Cambridge with a degree in natural sciences and chemical engineering, he then moved, somewhat unexpectedly, into the world of strategy consulting and high finance. He and Lucy subsequently decided to take a year off to travel through the Third World and “saw glimpses of happiness on the faces of children in remote Indian villages — on the faces of remote tribes in Northern Laos — and on the faces of villagers in the Peruvian mountains, tending their flocks of alpacas.”

Their conclusion: “The stressful life of London for a ‘high flier,’ accumulating as much wealth as possible before dying of an early heart attack, was challenged by these encounters. And so we decided, in our naivete, that there must be more to life. But where to find it in North West London? And so, after a few more years of returning to the grindstone, we fled to Israel to study in yeshivah and seminary, two young daughters in arms.

“Some forty-eight months later, not only had I learned more than I had in my previous thirty-two years but I was also privileged to leave with a rabbinical qualification, two more children, and a fifth on the way. Back in Britain, I apprenticed for three years with a wonderful rabbinic mentor in Hendon Synagogue. Now I was ready to take on a senior position of my own, at a growing community named Radlett.”

It did not take the national media in the UK long to make the connection between the Dees, Hendon, and Radlett after the vile terrorist murder of Lucy, Maia, and Rina Dee on Chol Hamoed Pesach, and both Rabbi Hughes of Radlett and I were asked to give interviews to various media outlets regarding the horrendous terror attack. In an early interview with the BBC, I remarked on the unfathomable pain of “the loss of two gorgeous daughters, and his wife now lying critically ill [at the time] in a hospital in Jerusalem. But through the sadness, there’s still that determination that he has to find any positives one can find, to try and be strong for his remaining children.”

Leo’s remarkable inner strength, deep-rooted emunah, and prodigious intelligence shone through the agony of his awful losses almost at once. His deep sense of caring and thinking of others moved me when we spoke on the Motzaei Shabbos after the dreadful attack and he made sure to tell me, with appreciation, how much he felt “supported and embraced by a blanket of warmth and love” from within Israel and from people across the world who had already been in contact with him.

Yet I doubt if any of us could have fully predicted the incredible way in which Rabbi Dee would inspire, unite, and galvanize Am Yisrael and even, in many ways, world opinion, while traversing the emotional turmoil and agony of the loss of his beloved daughters Maia and Rina and then of his dear wife Lucy Hy”d. In Reb Leo’s “Deesday” news conference, the day after Maia and Rina’s funerals and the day before Lucy’s, his face etched with grief and pain, he managed to strongly and cogently argue that terror is always wrong, that right must be supported over wrong, and evil called out as such. He also differentiated between that which Am Yisrael represents in terms of positive building and the empty worthlessness and sheer evil of those who, in embracing terror, seek nothing other than to just destroy.

It is a matter of public record how British foreign secretary James Cleverly wrote to Rabbi Dee on April 13, in terms rarely formally expressed by the UK government, that “there can be no justification for such senseless and abhorrent violence and I unequivocally condemn this act of terrorism.” Many have reasonably surmised that Rabbi Dee’s forthrightness, courage, and clarity, even at such a difficult moment for him and his family, may well have been a critical factor in eliciting such a direct statement from the British foreign secretary.

We have all been so inspired and moved by the brave positive messaging that Rabbi Dee has conveyed to the world. We should take our lead from him and strongly proclaim the message that terror will never win and that the world must call out violence, terror, and destructiveness as the evils which they are while promoting peace, love, and positivity.

An incredible story from the last day of Pesach in the Efrat shul where the Dee family davens was posted by Matti Lauffer:

“I prayed next to the Dee family on the last day of Pesach. After the very difficult days our community went through at the beginning of Chag, the Dee family came to shul — standing tall and with their heads held high. I arrive a few minutes before davening starts. The Dee family is already there. Rabbi Leo Dee sees me, and approaches me and offers me a warm and loving hug, and wishes me a Chag Sameach.

“But still, in the shul you still feel the complex between the depression and the joy. The chazzan struggles to find the balance to respect the community atmosphere. He keeps breaking up. It’s hard. He gets up to Hallel. First stanza — not sung. Maybe the chazzan doesn’t feel up to singing. Maybe the next part... Second stanza, “B’tzeis Yisrael miMitzrayim” — the chazzan does not sing. I am beginning to feel the mourning, I am beginning to understand that we won’t be singing the last Hallel of Pesach. Sadness, pain, real tears.

“But at that moment Rabbi Leo gets up from his seat and moves quickly toward the chazzan. Rabbi Leo gently puts his arm around the chazzan, hugs him, and whispers something in his ear. The chazzan looks at Rabbi Leo and immediately begins singing that lifts the soul to lofty heights. “Mah lecha hayam ki tanus!” From then on, we sing. We sing together all of Hallel.

“What did Rabbi Leo tell him? I approached the chazzan after the tefillah and asked if he was willing to share with me. Rabbi Leo told him, ‘Please, make it joyous.’ And yes it was — happy, and a little sad. But mostly, mostly… comforting.”

Support after unimaginable tragedy. (L-R) Dayan Ivan Binstock (rav of St. John’s Wood Synagogue and dayan on the London Beis Din), Rabbi Ginsbury, Rabbi Yonason Hughes (rav of Radlett Synagogue), and Rabbi Pini Hackenbroch (rav of Woodside Park Synagogue and Chair of the Rabbinical Council of the United Synagogue) flew to Israel at the beginning of the week to be menachem avel their brave friend

A few days after the atrocity, I received an email request from a journalist who works for an Arab media outlet for a comment. I responded, “What can I say? We are all just devastated, grieving, and shattered along with Rabbi Leo and his surviving children. But we will be strong and true to our faith, belief, and core values, carrying forward, as very best we can, the privileged challenge and opportunity with which our patriarch Abraham was first charged of being ‘a source of blessing to all the families of the earth’ (Bereishis 12:3). We will somehow move positively forward, even through the current veil of tears and indescribable pain, to live lives of positivity, goodness, love, and transcendent worth.” I have not heard back from that correspondent as yet.

In parshas Chayei Sarah, Rav Yerucham of Mir comments (Daas Torah, Biurim 23:3) on how Avraham Avinu addressed Bnei Cheis after the death of his beloved wife, Sarah Imeinu. “Vayakam Avraham” — he picked himself up, as though he had not suffered a devastating loss. “He needed to address other people. And as a matter of kavod habrios (respect for others), after his considerable grief and crying, he removed all of his tears, washed his face and kept his pain and anguish within himself, as if it wasn’t there, for he was speaking with others and it wouldn’t be respectful to speak with them when he was still crying.”

During their three years with us in Hendon, Reb Leo and Lucy, together with their dear children, displayed great sensitivity, compassion, and warmth — exemplary kavod habrios — in so very many ways. At a moment when evil terrorists showed the exact opposite, they were met, overpowered, and rebutted by the genial, intelligent, compelling, and correct narrative of the Am HaTorah, as articulated by Rabbi Leo Dee.

May HaKadosh Baruch Hu send him, his surviving children, Keren, Tali, and Yehuda, together with Lucy’s parents, siblings, and extended family, His sustaining blessings of comfort and strength. May we all move forward in amity and unity, continuing to extend whatever support we possibly can to the Dees and to all those who are struggling and grieving in the aftermath of this most terrible and painful tragedy.


Rabbi Mordechai Ginsbury, an alumnus of Gateshead and Be’er Ya’akov yeshivos, is the longtime rav of Hendon United Synagogue, Raleigh Close, London.


(Originally featured in Mishpacha, Issue 957)

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