Photo Credit: Gershon Elinson/FLASH90
PM Benjamin Netanyahu speaks with Rabbi Leo Dee during shiva in the Dees' home in Efrat on April 16.

Shiva houses, even those of terror victims, are unfortunately no longer new territory for me. Yet the Dee shiva was different.

Tragedies are a time for mourning and, as Maimonides teaches, introspection. Beyond the seven-day period of shiva, this process generally takes place in the private sphere. Some families, however, inexplicably manage to transform that introspection into a communal movement. One recent example is the Koltai family who, after losing their 13-year-old son in the Meron crowd crush, sparked the MicroMitzva campaign.


The Dees are also one such family. A Friday night Pirkei Avot initiative has been launched in memory of Lucy, Rina and Maya Dee, hy”d, who were murdered in cold blood. Its background is that during Covid-19, the Dees began learning Pirkei Avot at their Shabbat table, with a lively discussion on ethics and Jewish values ensuing. Remarkably, over 10,000 people have taken on this commitment to infuse their Shabbat table with a deep dive into Jewish ethics.

But there was something more.

My arrival coincided precisely with the arrival of MKs Itamar Ben Gvir and Betzalel Smotrich. I wondered what that interaction would look like.

I learned that throughout the shiva Leo Dee made one request of every high-profile visitor. A chameleon-like request. It was the same request for every person, except it took on totally different colors and shades depending on the visitor’s identity. The request? “Please do something out of your comfort zone for the sake of our nation’s unity.”

For the Grand Rabbi of the Sadigura Hassidic sect, it was to raise the Israeli flag on Yom Ha’Atzmaut and say Hallel. For secular leaders, it was to commit to one mitzvah, such as lighting Shabbat candles, or studying Pirkei Avot. For leading rabbis of the American Orthodox community, Rabbis Efrem Goldberg and Shay Shachter, it was to bring some of their constituents on aliyah and start a satellite community in Israel. For left-wing politicians, it was to support some element of a right-wing initiative.

For all, it was to remember that over and above our differences, we are brothers.

I was stunned. Leo’s “DeesDay” eulogy outlining a renewed moral vision was astonishing enough, coming as it did with his wife in the ICU and his daughters’ graves still fresh. But this was beyond belief. It required stepping out of his own pain and having a vision broad enough to put his country’s pain and infighting above his own searing pain.

It required not a spontaneous emotional reaction, not a reflexive turn to classic ways of memorialization such as increased Torah study. It required a thought-out, intentional decision of how people could memorialize his loved ones in a manner most suited to the needs of the current moment.

So what was the request of Ben Gvir and Smotrich? Rabbi Dee began by making it clear he has no patience for double standards against Israel in the media, later calling CNN a partner in international terror. He also decried the moral equivalences between Israel’s right to defense and Palestinian terrorists’ cowardly murder of innocents. But then he described the relationships he has with his Palestinian neighbors. Positive relationships. Warm relationships. A former worker who left Leo a voice note punctuated by pain and sobbing upon hearing of the attack. Leo averred that most Palestinians desire stability and economic freedom, not terror and the restrictions it ends up imposing on them.

That afternoon, youth of the surrounding Arab villages were to come to Efrat where Jewish youth would greet them with games and food in a spirit of camaraderie. Leo asked for Ben Gvir and Smotrich to support this initiative.

In response, Ben Gvir conceded that there are good-hearted Palestinians but argued that they are a small minority, with the majority comprising a support system for terrorists. Leo persisted. “Even if they’re a small minority, can’t we support them? After all,” Leo said, “enough pictures have been taken of you in confrontation with violence-minded Palestinians. Isn’t it time for the world to see you can stand together with peace-minded Palestinians?” Ultimately, Ben Gvir remained hesitant to commit to supporting the initiative. Smotrich, by contrast, said with a smile, “If you want me to step out of my comfort zone, you’ll have to find something else. I would be very happy to support this initiative.”

Everyone was leaning in, waiting to hear what Leo would suggest next, but time was up. Holy neighbors volunteering as crowd control, urged everyone to stand and comfort the mourners in unison, as too many people were waiting outside. So it was, as about every fifteen minutes the crowd of 80-plus was requested to cycle out to accommodate the throngs of new visitors.

Though Leo, a hero to the rest of us, attempted to continue the dialogue with Smotrich, his daughter turned and whispered, “Abba, stop already – you’re boring everyone!” In that moment, despite the strength and vision projected by their father, it hit me how young, raw, and vulnerable his daughters were.

As the world continues its trend to hyperpartisanship and political rifts tear families, colleagues, and countries apart, let us hope Leo Dee does not fade into the background.

As we mark the shloshim of his wife and daughters, hy”d, let us remember a year from now what he said last week. In advance of reciting Yizkor for the government ceremony at Har Herzl on Yom Ha’Atzmaut, he issued a call to the public: “I speak for the bereaved families, having met many recently at the shiva, we want one thing – we want unity.”

Let us internalize his messages and step out of our comfort zones. Making a sincere effort to understand the concerns and fears of those with opposing views. Above all, let us speak and interact as brothers.

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Rabbi Chaim Goldberg has semicha from RIETS and a graduate degree in child clinical psychology from Hebrew University. Aside from practicing psychology and teaching Torah at various yeshivot/seminaries, he runs Mussar Links, a non-profit dedicated to publishing the Torah writings of Rabbi Hillel Goldberg.