Remembering a Druze Hero of Israel, Witnessing His Family’s Pride
A few weeks ago on Shabbat, I told the story of Zidan Saif z’l, a great hero of Israel.
On Nov. 18th, Zidan, a Druze traffic police officer – who wasn’t wearing a bullet-proof vest or other protective armor – charged the Jerusalem synagogue where terrorists were slaughtering worshipers with guns and meat cleavers. Zidan was not called to the scene. He heard of the incident over his police radio, voluntarily rushed to the house of worship, and engaged the terrorists in a gun-battle that drew them away from their butchery. He saved many Jewish lives, and he ultimately paid with his own – when one of the terrorists shot Zidan in the head.
I was in Israel during the Saif Family “shiva” – the Druze also observe seven days of mourning for a departed loved one – and on the final night, I drove though a torrential downpour (great for Israel, treacherous for driving) to the far-north village of Yanuch-Jat to offer my condolences. Probably because of the weather, I was the only non-family member present, which offered me the special honor of spending a couple of hours talking with a group of extraordinary human beings.
When I told Zidan’s father that his son was recognized as a hero not only in Israel but even in New York, he began to cry. When I gave Zidan’s five-month old daughter the priestly blessing, Zidan’s 21-year-old widow, Rinal, began to cry as well. At the end of my visit, I was escorted into the “family room,” where the walls were adorned with the photographs of departed family members. “This one,” pointed Zidan’s father, “served in the Golani Brigades, and that one died in combat fighting for Israel…” He beamed with pride as he recounted his family’s and the Druze community’s courageous sacrifices for the Jewish State. When I left, Zidan’s father and brothers asked me to return with my family. As an incentive, they promised to slaughter a goat in honor of the occasion. I pointed out the kashut challenges, so he offered to prepare the animal according to my specifications, and we settled on bringing our families together at a kosher restaurant.
When I spoke at my Synagogue about this inspiring encounter, I encouraged attendees to send me emails of tribute to Zidan and, if so moved, to send contributions to help Zidan’s widow and baby. Many have responded, and I have forwarded their messages to the Saifs, with whom I remain in regular contact, and they have been quite moved.
Next week, I will be traveling to Israel for the World Zionist Organization International Rabbinic Conference , and I plan to see the Saifs during my stay. If you would like me to pass on a message of tribute, please email me, and I will do so. If you would like to contribute financially, please send a check made payable to “Fifth Avenue Synagogue Trust Fund” with a note designating the contribution for “Zidan’s family.” Let me know if you plan to send in a check, so that I can give Rinal (Zidan’s widow) the money even if your check arrives after I leave for Israel.
As we recently bid farewell to Hanukkah, it is proper to remember modern-day Maccabees like Zidan z’l.
Rabbi Yaakov Y. Kermaier is the spiritual leader of New York City’s Fifth Avenue Synagogue. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.