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Remembering the Druze Officer Who Died Defending the Jerusalem Synagogue

Ultra-Orthodox Jews across Israel attend the funeral of Zidan Sayif

Yair Rosenberg
November 19, 2014
Zidan Sayif. (Courtesy of family)
Zidan Sayif. (Courtesy of family)

Coverage of yesterday’s massacre in Jerusalem has understandably focused on the stories of the four Jewish victims, all Torah scholars horrifically killed during morning prayers. You can read heartrending accounts of their lives in the New York Times, Wall Street Journal and the Forward. But there was a fifth victim of the assault. He succumbed to his wounds last night in Israel, and so his death did not make the initial press coverage. But Zidan Sayif, the 30-year-old Druze police officer who charged into the synagogue and engaged the assailants–likely averting a far greater massacre–is just as worthy of remembrance, not only in the media, but by the Jewish community he gave his life to protect.

“He shielded our brothers the worshipers with his body, let us go show our gratitude,” one ultra-Orthodox resident of the synagogue’s Har Nof neighborhood told the Haredi newspaper B’hadrei Hadarim. Young ultra-Orthodox activists have publicized Sayif’s funeral information online and by word-of-mouth, and helped arrange for hundreds of ultra-Orthodox youth from around the country, as well as residents of Har Nof, to attend. A group of ultra-Orthodox donors even provided free transportation to the Druze village of Yanuh-Gat, where Sayif is being laid to rest.

“I saw the picture of him with his daughter and thought that it is obligatory to join someone who gave his life for the people of Israel,” said Ariella Sternbuch of Beitar Illit, one of the organizers of the transportation. “The minimum expression of gratitude we can give to someone who protected the worshipers of our neighborhood and sacrificed his life is to attend his funeral,” another Haredi told reporters. “He gave us his life–we can dedicate the time to honor him and comfort his family.”

Sayif, who joined the Israeli police force several years ago, left behind a wife and four-month-old daughter, as well as parents and four siblings. Early reports indicate that he and his partner were the first respondents on the scene of the attack, and that Sayif shielded both the worshipers and his partner from bullets with his body. “He gave his life for his country,” his father Nihad told Ma’ariv. “He was a traffic officer and first into the synagogue. This was his fate and his fortune … We do not know what to tell his daughter when she grows up and asks where her father is. But we will grapple with it. We will take care of her and look after her like she was our little daughter.”

When news of Sayif’s death broke in the evening, the Israeli Police mourned his loss on Twitter, sharing his photo and writing, “Israel’s police bow their heads in memory of Zidan Sayif (30), who risked his life to save lives and was murdered in the attack this morning in Jerusalem. May his memory be a blessing.”

“He shielded his partner with his body and also saved many worshipers,” one of Sayif’s cousins told Ma’ariv. “If he had not been there, the result would have been even worse. This is so fitting for him to have died saving others, because he was a singular individual with a great heart, and because of this he was loved by all. He helped everyone and talked with everyone, young and old. He played soccer with the children in the village.”

“We will miss him so much.”

Yair Rosenberg is a senior writer at Tablet. Subscribe to his newsletter, listen to his music, and follow him on Twitter and Facebook.