Mori Sokal

Heart of Gold, and bronze, and Light

Lucy Dee, Rena London and Mori Sokal on Yom Yerushalayim in Gan Sacher. (Photo courtesy of author)
Mori Sokal, Rena London, and Lucy Dee in Gan Sacher on Yom Yerushalayim 2022

Today is exactly seven weeks since the funeral of our friend Lucy. As my daughter pointed out when we were learning as a family on Shavuot night, seven is a special number in Tanach. The first and most important of those is the seventh day of the week, Shabbat. Shavuot is the holiday that signifies the closing of the circle of the shalosh regalim, the three major holidays in the Jewish year; it is essentially the end of the year’s holiday cycle. It is celebrated by counting exactly 7 weeks after the first day of Passover, the second major holiday of the three. We just counted the end of those weeks and celebrated Shavuot this past Thursday night, and the holiday (for those of us in Israel) ended in Shabbat, so it was a double holiday. My heart was not so into preparing for the holiday this year, although in the end I did enjoy spending time with family and friends and learning Torah. In my mind, Friday (Shavuot) was a notable seven for a different reason, as was this past Sunday, which was seven weeks since the funeral for Lucy’s daughters. Today is the final seven. As most if not all of the people in our community of Efrat as well as Israel, England, and many other Jewish communities throughout the world know, the first day of counting the Omer this year was also one of a great tragedy for our community. On that day an awful terror attack was carried out against a mother and two of her daughters who were traveling north to enjoy some of the holiday vacation away from home. The terrorists shot at the car, ran it off the road, and continued shooting until 20 year old Maia and 15 year old Rina were killed. Their mother, my friend, Lucy, was also shot and hurt badly. We did not yet know how badly on that Friday. All we knew was that they had brought Lucy to a hospital and were performing surgery. That was how we started the second night of the Omer, the counting that connects Passover to Shavuot–not knowing. Many of us spent that shabbat, which felt like the longest of my life, waiting to hear if Lucy was going to live. I kept picturing how long and difficult her recovery would be, especially once she woke up and found out about her girls. I didn’t really believe then that she would not recover. We waited, and we prayed. After shabbat all we knew was that she was still unconscious. 

Seven weeks ago Sunday, so many attended the funeral for the two girls while their mother lay in the hospital; two friends sat vigil by Lucy’s side so her husband and other children could be at the funeral for their sisters, Leo’s daughters. Lucy was already gone, but we still didn’t know that. On Monday afternoon, the news went out- Lucy was not going to recover, she would be buried with her girls who were taken from their family so early and so cruelly, and leave behind a husband and three other children who would have to learn how to live without their mother and their siblings.

Almost immediately Leo, a Rav himself, was shoved into the spotlight. The family had to suffer their loss while also being a symbol for a nation- their loss was not private, but belonged and still belongs to all of Am Yisrael. I still don’t know how or where they found the strength to not only grieve publicly but to turn this tragedy into something that could be positive. Leo wanted everyone to post the Israeli flag, to do good deeds in their names. Posters and car magnets went out; the girls and their mother could be seen everywhere. I had a hard time with this for a long time- when asked in a few stores if I wanted to take a magnet I silently and with tears in my throat shook my head no. As the days and then weeks went by though, I finally took a magnet- in fact, I took two. I have one for my door, up there next to Ari Fuld whose magnet says “If life is easy, you’re living it wrong.” He is also the one who told me in a shiur I only heard after he was killed that we don’t get to have answers, at least not in this life. I don’t know if I’m looking for answers; I am still just looking for my friend. The other magnet that I took is in my car; not on my car, but in the console. On days when I feel the most lost now I look at it and think about what it says: What have I done for someone else? What has someone else done for me? What has Hashem done for me? It’s about recognizing the good we have, and the good we can do. I still think about all of the chesed-kindness that was done for me and my family that allowed me to be at my friend’s funeral, to say goodbye. I think of how my in-laws understood that I needed to be there, even though they had come all the way to Israel to share chag with the whole family. I think of certain things Hashem prepared ahead of time so that we could be in our house for the last day of chag- the medicine was ready before the pain was sent. I am thankful for that, and now, still with tears and sadness, yet I can smile as I say I am thankful that I had the chance and the time to become close to Lucy.

Lucy was always going the extra mile, and the more stories come out about her, and about each of her daughters, it is clear that she was as beautiful on the inside as her constant shining smile showed. She truly had a heart of gold and shared her light by doing positive things for others.

On the day that it was six weeks since the tragedy- on Friday, Yom Yerushalayim, I tried to write. At the time, I felt my words weren’t coming out right, so I didn’t post it. Only a year ago I was in Yerushalayim on Yom Yerushalim with Lucy and Rena and our school-it was too hard to write that day. But there is still part of those thoughts I want to share here. Yerushalayim is the center of the country, but more than that, it is the heart of the Jewish people. When, after thousands of years, we returned not only to our country but finally to the Kotel, the Western Wall, we rejoiced. However, we are only part of the way to true reunification. As a people, we are more contentious than any siblings- if we aren’t being attacked by outside forces, sadly, we are constantly fighting within. This problem has only gotten worse. I wish we could remember who our enemies are without having to go through national tragedies, where siblings are murdered by terrorists (there were two other tragic attacks shortly before the Dees’) to remind us how much we need to stand together. In only a few short weeks we will hit the 9th anniversary of when three boys, not brothers but now buried together, were kidnapped and murdered by terrorists. That year, for 12 days, the whole country- all of us, all denominations- prayed that the kidnapped boys would be found and returned safely. They were found eventually, but had been murdered before we knew about their fate. In their name Unity Day was established- why can’t we have Unity Day in Israel every day?

Yom Yerushalayim  is the day we celebrate the reunification of Jerusalem. One of the most famous pictures from that day is the three soldiers who were part of the group that got to the Kotel- the Western Wall first. The looks on their faces are of being reunited with someone they thought lost forever, a feeling reflected in Jews’ hearts since we were exiled from Israel 2,000 years ago. Six years ago, on the 50th anniversary of the reunification, there were big celebrations in Jerusalem. I was privileged to be at one, and to meet the famous soldiers. At one point, I went to sit quietly at a corner table. Dr. Itzik Yifat was also sitting there, and he didn’t seem to mind speaking to me. We talked about what he had been doing with his life and what he thought about being famous. He said he’s simply a doctor, a person who wants to help people. He didn’t understand why he was famous, why his face should have become a symbol for our nation any more than any of the other soldiers who fought that day. There was an article written then that explains the feelings he expressed to me; I will include it here.

 After the shloshim event to honor and remember Lucy, Maia, and Rina, Leo said to me how Lucy would have loved this- he meant all of these shiurim and all the good that people were doing. I said yes to that, but that she would not have wanted the whole world to know about her- she kept so much close to her heart. Lucy, like Dr. Yifat, would not have wanted to become a symbol for our nation, a poster on the hill. She would have wanted to continue raising her family, seeing all of her children (and her students) grow to reach their potential, to keep the Women’s shiur going and to keep doing other acts of kindness that we may all never even know about. I know she would be glad to know that her heart of gold is keeping someone else alive now, and that her children got to hear it yet beating. But I also know that Lucy would have wanted to spare her family and friends and community the pain of missing her.

As the weeks have passed, along with sharing my own stories of Lucy’s kindness, I have heard many others. I told Leo at the shiva how, although we were more acquaintances than friends back then, Lucy was the one who came to talk to me when I left a shiur that was difficult for me to hear during my year of mourning for my mother. I did not yet share with him how, there was a time this year when my daughter wasn’t feeling well and all she wanted was some orange soup, but we couldn’t find any in the stores. I called Lucy to see if she happened to have any on hand, since I knew she often had soup in the freezer. Lucy said she didn’t have any- but the next day she showed up at school with freshly made orange soup for my daughter. When a friend came over on Lag Baomer and brought orange soup, I looked at my daughter and she said, “I know what you’re thinking about.” Yes, she knew. 

There is still so much to say, so many moments that make me glad in a bittersweet way- when I went hiking in the forest with my family on Yom Haatzmaut and I remembered, yes, I did get to take Lucy here once. 

And now, seeing how Leo and his family are handling their great loss, how so many people have taken this as a sign to go out and do good projects in their names- so many projects! How many women have joined the weekly shiur! How many young people, friends of the girls, have started amazing projects like the weekly Pirkei Avot learning sent far and wide! Lucy’s and Maia’s and Rina’s kindness and energy are inspiring so many and bringing out so much good in the world.

There is a book series I have mentioned before called The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. In it, there is a special spaceship that is powered by a machine called the Heart of Gold. This unique item can take people anywhere in the universe more quickly than any other known computer. However, it has a function that seems to make no sense- it turns everything upside-down and makes reality seem illogical. When examined more closely, all of those events that occur when the Heart is functioning have their own internal logic and, in hindsight, they do make sense.

The past seven weeks have felt that way- they haven’t made much sense to me. In my own search for a way to understand this, I keep finding out about nevi’im-prophets who came to speak to the Jewish people in difficult times. They came to chastise the nation, but also to help return the nation to Hashem. To say, if only we were doing what God meant for us to do, we wouldn’t have to go through this pain. 

When I wanted to write about Yom Yerushalayim I was looking for a quote I half-remembered and found in the book of Zecharia – that one day the streets of Jerusalem would again be filled with old men and women, and boys and girls playing. It is hopeful, and uplifting, that these words have come true. 

Also, it says in Yirmiyahu these words which we use as part of a blessing at a Jewish wedding:

כֹּה אָמַר יְהֹוָה עוֹד יִשָּׁמַע בַּמָּקוֹם־הַזֶּה אֲשֶׁר אַתֶּם אֹמְרִים חָרֵב הוּא מֵאֵין אָדָם וּמֵאֵין בְּהֵמָה בְּעָרֵי יְהוּדָה וּבְחֻצוֹת יְרוּשָׁלַ͏ִם הַנְשַׁמּוֹת מֵאֵין אָדָם וּמֵאֵין יוֹשֵׁב וּמֵאֵין בְּהֵמָה׃

Thus said GOD: Again there shall be heard in this place, which you say is ruined, without humans or animals—in the towns of Judah and the streets of Jerusalem that are desolate, without humans, without inhabitants, without animals—

קוֹל שָׂשׂוֹן וְקוֹל שִׂמְחָה קוֹל חָתָן וְקוֹל כַּלָּה קוֹל אֹמְרִים הוֹדוּ אֶת־יְהֹוָה צְבָאוֹת כִּי־טוֹב יְהֹוָה כִּי־לְעוֹלָם חַסְדּוֹ מְבִאִים תּוֹדָה בֵּית יְהֹוָה כִּי־אָשִׁיב אֶת־שְׁבוּת־הָאָרֶץ כְּבָרִאשֹׁנָה אָמַר יְהֹוָה׃ {ס}

the sound of mirth and gladness, the voice of bridegroom and bride, the voice of those who cry, “Give thanks to GOD of Hosts, for GOD —whose steadfast love is eternal—is good!” as they bring thanksgiving offerings to the House of GOD. For I will restore the fortunes of the land as of old—said GOD.

We are constantly told as a people how we will be blessed if we do God’s will, and how we will suffer if not. I do not think the Dee family have done anything to deserve the pain they are enduring. I don’t think Lucy or the girls deserved their martyrdom. I do think we may have needed and may still need a wake up call. I know that spreading Lucy’s ideas, her love, her good deeds, has had a ripple effect, and we may never know how far it has gone. I do know that, like Yerushalayim, which is the City of Gold at the center of our nation and our heart, Lucy had a heart of gold. Now, we all can see just how big it was only in hindsight. I know that this will take a long time to make sense to us, if it ever does. 

Chesed shel Emet is another phrase that has been echoing in my head. It means kindness of Truth, or true kindness. We are taught that the truest kindness we can do is to take care of the dead, because it is a kindness they can never repay. Another way the words Chesed shel Emmet can be read is to separate the last two words- Chesed shel Em Met- the kindness of a mother who has passed. Lucy truly gave from her heart, she gave of herself without asking for repayment, down to her last breath. We have a shining light to follow, an example of goodness and kindness. 

After my last post on Yom Hazikaron, I added something before sharing it with my friends on Facebook. I wanted to add here what I posted to Facebook the night of Yom Haatzmaut [Israeli Independence Day]. After I wrote and posted the earlier blog, I felt at loose ends. I really didn’t know how to transition from extreme sadness to extreme joy, but we, as a people, have been doing this for many years- dating at least back to the events of Purim, another holiday we still observe where there was fear of death for all of the Jews and it turned into a victory celebration over those who wanted to kill us. It is also currently a day when we fast for the Fast of Esther and then go right into one of our happiest holidays. This is what I added on Yom Haatzmaut night:

Now I understand. After today, I didn’t know what to do tonight- what I wanted to do. I went with a friend to her shul and to hear a speech, but that wasn’t where I wanted to be. I went home and watched the national ceremony, the transition between Yom Hazikaron and Yom Haatzmaut- Leo Dee was saying the final Yizkor. It was good to be with my family for that. I couldn’t watch much of the celebration ceremony though, so we tried to watch something light, but that wasn’t it (what I needed) either. I finally realized that where I really needed to be was with my whole hometown of Efrat. We had all been crying together for these past few weeks, and now we needed to celebrate together. I got there (to the big park in Efrat) in the middle (of the show), and it was beautiful and heartwarming. Friends I managed to find said Lucy would want you to smile, to dance. They’re right, she would. 

In past years I have always teared up, but in a good way, when singing Hatikva with a crowd in Israel. It meant something. Today, at Lucy’s kever was the first time I ever cried with a broken heart when we all started singing. So I didn’t know what I would feel when we sang tonight. The tears were back, but also, I felt my heart start to mend. 

For all of us who find the transition difficult, I hope you find love and strength where you can, and still have Hope in your heart. Chag Sameach.

Our cycle of holidays, except for the upcoming period of mourning our ruined Temple, is over. During that time we still and ever hope that the day of fasting and sadness will turn into a day of joy and celebration. When the Jewish people will be united, we will see the Temple rebuilt, our friends and family returned, and peace. Every bit of good that we do has an effect on the world, whether we know it or not. Every time we do kindness, it goes on and on, echoes past our ability to hear it. I can still hear Lucy’s voice echoing in my head when she wanted to know how I was, saying, “Tell me about Mori” with love in her eyes.

Today we had English Day at our elementary school. It was time for me to stop mourning and to do something positive. Thanks to Leo and a friend of his, I was able to get some magnets and posters. In addition to all of the fun stations, I set up a station of chesed where the students could write a note and give it with a marshmallow or toffee to a friend. Yes, they figured out that if they give to each other they both get candy. But there were other stations where they could get candy without having to give of themselves, even if it was only a minute to write something nice so they could make a friend smile. Many of them also took magnets in Hebrew or English, to take home to their families, to share the focus on positivity.

Chesed station on English Day in Carmei Yehuda school, Gush Etzion. In Memory of Lucy, Maia, and Rina.

May the ripples of our good deeds continue to spread, and may we celebrate this coming Tisha B’av together in Jerusalem.

L’iluy nishamot Leah (Lucy) bat Refael Hacohen v’Tzippora, Maia Esther bat Harav Aryeh Mordechai v’Leah, and Rina Miriam bat Harav Aryeh Mordechai v’Leah

About the Author
Mori Sokal is a SIXTEEN year veteran of Aliyah, mother of three wonderful children (with her wonderful husband) and is an English teacher in both elementary and high school in the Gush Etzion-Jerusalem area. She has a Masters’ degree in teaching, is a copy editor, and has published articles in Building Blocks, the Jewish Press magazine.
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