Chana Hughes

Rabbi Leo Dee’s wife and daughters were murdered but his faith remains so deep

The former Radlett shul leader is an example to us all

April 10, 2023 13:09

On Friday afternoon, following the second seder night, we heard the horrific news. The previous rebbetzin of our Radlett United Synagogue community, Rebbetzin Lucy Dee and her two daughters, Maia and Rina, had been shot by Palestinian gunmen while on their way to a family trip in Tiberias. Maia and Rina were killed immediately while tragically, the news came today that Lucy had also died in hospital. 

Rabbi Leo and his wife Rebbetzin Lucy led Radlett United Synagogue from 2011 until 2014 when they immigrated to Israel and my husband and I took over their roles. Both were Oxbridge educated, quietly confident and accomplished by the time they took up their Rabbinic positions.

Having left their lives in finance behind them, they spent time travelling before studying in yeshivah in Israel and coming to the UK to share their inspiration, first in Hendon and then Radlett United Synagogues.

On Pesach, my husband read an excerpt of Rabbi Dee’s book on Judaism's impact on modernity to the community. His passion, shared by his wife, was to make Judaism relevant and accessible to the modern Jew.

The Radlett community got to know Rabbi Dee as kind, gentle and highly intelligent. Rebbetzin Lucy was creative, insightful and a real doer. Their strong friendship and mutual admiration as a couple shone through. Many from both Hendon and Radlett have remained in touch with the family, which is testament to their relatable personalities.

As has become clear over the past few days, the Dees were deeply and fiercely idealistic, people of strong faith, belief in the good of others and steadfast in their religious values.

Their girls were much younger when they lived in Radlett nearly a decade ago. Synagogue communities get to know the rabbi’s children as they attend services and events together as a family. Maia and Rina with their golden hair and sweet smiles were remembered as playful children, full of life and hope; navigating primary school and community life, carefree and happy. Rabbi Leo’s pain and that of his three remaining children is unfathomable.

No matter how far apart, or how different we may be, our people are our family. In the heart-rending double funeral for his daughters, Rabbi Dee referred to a Talmudic discussion about conjoined twins and how to work out if they require two single or one joint inheritance. If you poke one and the other one feels the pain, they are considered one being, Rabbi Dee said.

He compared this interconnected existence to our Jewish community, all of whom are sharing in his pain during this time. Our synagogue community and so many others throughout the UK are feeling the family’s devastation. Shocked and bewildered by the thought of such immense loss for a family with such vibrant positivity and so much to give. A family so full of vitality, attacked while celebrating the festival of renewal and hope.

Pesach is a festival that knits together age-old accounts of persecution, fortitude and faith through stories of Jewish history. With the Exodus at its core, we explore the birth of our nation and the miracle of Jewish survival. Seder night is also a night of contradictions. We eat matzahwhich is poor man’s bread and reminds us of slavery.

But it also represents the haste of our speedy redemption. We lean like kings and are served by others but also eat bitter herbs to remember our ancestors’ suffering. Every year I wonder, why is the Seder so confusing? How on earth can we hold together all those contradictions?

This year, when I watched Rabbi Leo and his family at his daughters’ heart-breaking double funeral I saw exactly how. Their pain was so acute but at the same time their faith was so deep. Their loss was so immense but all the while their Jewish pride was so strong. I now know what people mean when they say that there are no words to describe it.

Last week, as Shabbat began, I gave my children the traditional blessing. May Hashem bless them, watch over them and grant them peace. I felt struck by the fragility of life and how grateful I am for what I have. I am reminded again of how being a Jew is a privilege. Albeit, at times, such a painful one to bear.

We continue to share the Dee family’s loss and sadness and pray for their continued strength.

April 10, 2023 13:09

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