Danish Jew Killed at Synagogue: A Guard on the Pitch, a Guard for His People

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The funeral of Dan Uzan at Copenhagen's Vestre Kirkegaard cemetery, February 18, 2015. Credit: AP

Dan Uzan always got in the way.

On the soccer pitch, with the ball whistling toward the net, this big man, goalie for the Jewish club Hakoah, would stand his ground and do all he could to stop it.

For many years Uzan was the only man between the striker and the goal.

A week ago, Uzan again stood his ground. He was all there was between terror and a Jewish congregation. And he put himself in the way.

Around 80 Jews, many teenagers among them, were celebrating a girl becoming a bat mitzvah in central Copenhagen. That night, the Jews in Krystalgade, Copenhagen, could all have fallen victims of a terrorist attack.

Around half an hour after midnight last Sunday, Omar Abdel Hamid El-Hussein, a 22-year-old Danish citizen with Palestinian parents, seems to have tried to get into the Jewish cultural center behind the synagogue. He was armed with loaded guns.

But Dan Uzan got in the way. Unarmed, he was manning the entrance control and the terrorist shot him in the head at close range. He died shortly afterward.

Two police officers were wounded by shots when the terrorist fled the scene.

Earlier that day Hussein had attacked a free-speech debate in a cafe in the city. Here, Finn Nørgaard, 55, a film director attending the event, was shot dead.

The gunman fled the scene, but turned up again at the city’s central synagogue, on a narrow street in the heart of Copenhagen.

At dawn, Danish policemen killed the attacker in a shootout in the traditionally working-class area of northwest Copenhagen.

Fixture in the community

For many years, Uzan was a fixture in the Jewish community’s volunteer guard team, looking out for everyone at the synagogue on Saturdays and Jewish holidays. He’d protect the pupils at Carolineskolen, the Jewish school in Copenhagen, where he himself used to study.

Uzan helped out at all congregational events. The last time around was at Hakoah’s 90-year anniversary in late January.

“He was always smiling and cheerful, always saying hello to everybody,” says his coach and teacher for many years, Morten Margolinsky.

Uzan was “like a son to the congregation,” the Jewish community in Denmark said in a statement the day after the killing.

Most people in the Jewish congregation knew Uzan. Come rain, come snow, he’d be there to ensure that others had the chance to gather in peace and quiet.

His was often the first face that one encountered at services in the synagogue. A big fellow, scary to look at but mild-mannered, pleasant and upbeat, his friends and acquaintances say.

Uzan was also in place when he was needed last weekend, when terrorism hit the Copenhagen Jewish community for the first time: “Unluckily, he was at the right place at the right time while watching over others like he always did,” one of his former classmates put it on Facebook.

All through last Sunday, the bereaved friends and family received greetings from all and sundry on this social platform, many of them concluding with the Hebrew words “baruch dayan ha’emet,” “Blessed is the judge of truth.”

Dan Uzan passed away in his second home: in God’s house. He himself was not very religious, but he did his job because the congregation was his second family.

“Everybody felt that Dan looked out for them. And so he did until tonight,” says his teammate in the guard, Daniel Gonn.

“Dan was a warm, loving and exuberant friend who was always there for others and would lend a helping hand without hesitating. He had a huge heart with room for everyone. He was a son, a brother, a friend and a teammate who was taken from us far too soon.”

Representing Denmark at Maccabiah

Uzan was the second child of a mixed marriage and grew up in the suburb of Hvidovre. His mother is Danish and his father Israeli, and they decided to let Jewish religion and culture be a central part of their offspring’s lives.

Dan was sent to Carolineskolen, like many other Jewish children in the 1980s and `90s.

At Carolineskolen, it was only natural for the boys to make an effort on the turf for the Jewish football club, and he was known as an incredibly loyal teammate.

He participated in five Maccabiahs, the international Jewish sports games, representing Denmark and the club as a keeper.

Tage Skolnik, Dan’s coach from 1995 till 2007, remembers him as a fabulous teammate who would always turn up for training.

“He’d never sulk. He’d always be eager to do well for the common good,” Skolnik says.

“Whenever he’d win a little money by gambling, he’d donate it to the club. The congregation was his haven, and he gave what he had to give. He was a mensch.”

Former Chief Rabbi Bent Lexner knew Uzan since his childhood. Lexner was mohel at Uzan’s brit and was later his teacher at Carolineskolen. And it was Lexner who drove out to Dan’s parents with the police officers to let the parents know of their son’s fate.

“He looked after us. The scary big guy in the goal with a huge warm heart,” the rabbi said at the funeral Wednesday at the Jewish cemetery.

About 1,000 people attended to support Dan’s parents and sister. They were his friends, community members, and teammates from Hakoah and Hoersholm Basket Ball Club, where he also put a lot of energy for many years.

The funeral was covered by worldwide media - and was well guarded by the police.

Dan Uzan had a master’s degree in political science. He worked for the airline SAS and the chain shop Tiger.

Translated from the Danish by Sara Høyrup

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