A lifelong friend of murdered security guard Dan Uzan has paid an emotional tribute to the “gentle giant” and urged UK Jews to thank the brave volunteers protecting synagogues.
The 37-year-old was laid to rest in Copenhagen yesterday as the country struggled to come to terms with the terrorist outrages at a free speech event and outside the synagogue in Krystalgade that claimed two innocent lives.
Six-foot-six Dan was shot in the head while guarding the shul – as he had on hundreds of occasions over the past two decades – during a batmitzvah early on Sunday morning.
Hours before joining hundreds of mourners, including Danish premier Helle Thorning-Schmidt at the funeral, his friend Daniel hailed the “hero” who the batmitzvah girl’s family said had prevented a “massacre”.
He described his friend as “the kind of person you could always call and he would be there – whether it was going out on the town or something serious. When I was moving, he moved furniture by himself. When we buried my grandfather, he was there at the funeral. He was a gentle giant”. He told Jewish News that Dan, a keen basketball and football player who competed at several Maccabiah Games, had been fully aware of the inherent danger in doing what he did. “He knew an attack could happen in Copenhagen. But it was his community service. That is what he did. That is Dan,” he said.
Daniel, who attended the local Caroline school with Dan before later travelling around Israel with him, had been following the unfolding tragedy on the news, but only discovered Dan’s fate when a mutual friend called at 4am. “I didn’t believe what he was telling me until I heard the president of the community confirm it was Dan. Even now I can’t comprehend what’s happened, it’s surreal.”
The pair last saw each other two weeks ago at the 90th anniversary celebrations for the sports organisation Hakoah – when Dan was once again keeping guard.
Although he does not recall their parting words, Daniel said: “I just remember his big hug.” And in a message to UK Jews, he said simply: “Remember to thank those guarding your synagogues.”
In the wake of the attack, Thorning-Schmidt said that “an assault on the Jews of Denmark is an attack on Denmark”.
The head of the Danish Jewish community, Dan Rosenberg Asmussen, said the community was in “deep shock” but had been warning that atrocities such as those elsewhere in Europe could also happen in the Scandanavian country. “We called for police on the ground during services after the attack in Brussels and renewed our request after Paris. We were in discussion with the authorities. There was heavily armed police on Saturday night, but this attack still happened.”
He described the economics graduate as “very well liked” and said his dedication to the community led him to follow suit.
A website established by the grieving family attracted dozens of tribute messages in just 48 hours, including from some of the 80 guests who attended the batmitzvah – who hid in the basement of the shul for two hours during and after the attack.
Regina Jaskov wrote: “We must fight the terrorists with all means so we don’t lose our dear children. Dan was a big man with a big heart. A thousand thank yous.”
A fund will also be set up to raise money in Dan’s memory. In the wake of last weekend’s attack, the Community Security Trust reinforced its call for vigilance and the full implementation of security procedures.
CST communications director Mark Gardner said: “Social media has been filled with expressions of support for our work, and especially noting the courage of our security volunteers. Similarly, many people have also emailed us. We completely echo their heartfelt sentiments and are extremely grateful. Sadly, the need for CST’s work has seldom been more obvious than right now. CST can only be as strong as our community enables it to be: which is why we deeply appreciate all of the moral strength, cooperation, funding and volunteers from across our community.”
The CST provides grants for physical security equipment at communal buildings – but the £500,000 budget for 2015 had been spent within three weeks of the Paris attacks.
Zionist Federation director Alan Aziz – who got to know Dan’s sister Andrea through her involvement with his organisation’s European Young Leadership network – said his “heart goes out to the family. Like the Danish community, we will not let terrorists scare us into hiding. In fact our response to these attacks should be doing more”. Rabbi Herschel Gluck from London met Dan on a number of occasions. He said he was “committed to and in the end gave his life for the protection of the community.”