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Sherri Mandell
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Maia and Rina and the power of the Jewish soul

We as a society can absorb this horror without turning into people who seek vengeance like our enemies
Family and friends attend the funeral of Maia and Rina Dee at the Gush Etzion Regional Cemetery in Kfar Etzion on April 9, 2023. (Noam Revkin Fenton/Flash90)
Family and friends attend the funeral of Maia and Rina Dee at the Gush Etzion Regional Cemetery in Kfar Etzion on April 9, 2023. (Noam Revkin Fenton/Flash90)

Another vicious act of terror that shatters the soul. Maia and Rina Dee, a Jewish family from Efrat deliberately targeted and murdered, shot to death in their car during Passover, the holiday of freedom. The mother, Lucy, fighting for her life in a hospital, critically wounded, and two young sisters dead. The photos in the paper, the funeral attended by thousands, the sadness and incomprehension. And yet, this is not abnormal for our lives here in Israel. Unfortunately, tragically, it is part of the rhythm of life here.

So what is there left to say? That we feel sad, hopeless, crushed and shattered. Again.

Twenty-two years ago, my 13- year-old son Koby and his friend Yosef Ish Ran were deliberately targeted by terrorists when they cut school and went hiking in the canyon in our home. They were bludgeoned to death with rocks. Since then, I have witnessed the horror of terror. So many victims:  Dahlia Lemkus from Tekoa, in her 20s, an occupational therapist, run over and stabbed. Elan Ganeles, from Connecticut, here to celebrate a wedding, shot in his car.  Young adults beginning their lives – families left in devastation. 1,420 victims killed by terrorists since 2000. Most recently, Hallel and Yagel Yaniv, two brothers shot in a car. Another set of brothers, Asher Paley, who was 8 years old, and his younger brother Yaakov, killed at a bus stop in Jerusalem. Too many to remember. Too many to name.

And what is the response of the Efrat community to the latest atrocity? Instructions to escort the girls’ bodies to their funeral with flags waving, to come out and show the family that the entire community stands with them. It sounds naïve and innocent. Yet there is something powerful about this response.

Because the Efrat community did the same for us 22 years ago. And as we drove through those people flanking our car on the way to the cemetery, waving flags, it did give us comfort. It almost felt like the power of a sea splitting for us, as the sea parted for the Hebrew people during the Exodus. A hint of redemption. But more basically: someone knew. Someone was there. People cared. We were not alone.

I want to say something about this horror, but it is impossible to say anything new. And that is exactly the point – we are in an ongoing war that seems to never end.

The nation of Israel has crevices in its soul – cracks, fissures, fractures, ruptures. All of us are touched by suffering but the families who lose their loved ones are the ones who carry the greatest pain and are forever changed. Haunted. But not necessarily hardened.

So when Hamas praises the shooting of Maia and Rina Dee, calling it a natural response to the occupation, there’s something so callous, hideous, and cruel about that statement, that we are forced to confront our enemy’s utter lack of humanity.

At the same time, we must recognize and praise the fact that – although we don’t want to and it hurts to do so – we as a society can absorb this horror without turning into people who seek vengeance like our enemies. Of course, we seek justice.  But justice is different than vengeance. In our case, Koby and Yosef’s killers have not been found. But our community has continued to grow and prosper. A new neighborhood was built in response to the boys’ murder. My own family created The Koby Mandell Foundation to help other terror victims. We were able to transform the cruelty of the boys’ murder into kindness that we continue to give to other bereaved families. We still suffer. But we have not turned into monsters.

Other families who have lost loved ones have also turned their pain into constructive acts of kindness, as well as a search for justice. That is the power of the Jewish soul.

About the Author
Sherri Mandell is co-director of the Koby Mandell Foundation which runs programs for bereaved families in Israel. She is the author of the book "The Road to Resilience: From Chaos to Celebration." Her book, "The Blessing of a Broken Heart," won a National Jewish Book Award in 2004. She can be reached at sherri@kobymandell.org
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