Zidan isn’t a name usually heard at a Jewish circumcision, but a New York couple gave their newborn son the moniker to honor a Druze policeman killed while responding to a terror attack on a Jerusalem synagogue last month.
Alexander Chester, a corporate real estate attorney, told The Times of Israel that he and his wife, Jennifer, a medical resident at New York-Presbyterian Hospital, wanted to make sure that Zidan Saif’s name would be perpetuated within the Jewish community, naming their son Yaakov Zidan.
“The four rabbis who were killed left behind many children, so it can be assumed that their names will live on through their grandchildren and great-grandchildren,” said Chester.
“We wanted to have [Zidan’s] name called among the Jewish people for all time.”
Saif, a Jerusalem traffic cop, was posthumously decorated with the Medal of Distinguished Service, the third-highest police honor. Saif was one of the first to arrive on the scene as two terrorists, armed with guns, axes and meat cleavers, attacked worshipers during morning prayer services at a synagogue in the Jerusalem neighborhood of Har Nof.
He played a key role in ending the attack, firing from outside the synagogue at the terrorists inside, before one of them ran out and shot him at close range.
Saif died of his wounds later that day, following his evacuation from the scene to a hospital.
At his son’s circumcision ceremony last Friday at Congregation Bnai Israel on Manhattan’s Upper East Side, the Modern Orthodox Chester explained to guests how he and his wife chose to follow a rabbinic teaching in giving their second son the Arabic “Zidan” as a middle name.
“There is an exception, a circumstance when not only is it permitted to name a Jewish child a secular name, but in fact meritorious to do so,” he said.
Chester told those gathered that the Midrash recounts that at this time of year 2,327 years ago, it was declared that all boys born to Kohanim, or Israelite priests, in the next year would be named “Alexander” in honor of the Macedonian emperor Alexander the Great, who rather than destroying the Holy Temple in Jerusalem, bowed down to the High Priest Shimon Hatzadik.
“Alexander became a Jewish name until today — obviously, since it is my name,” said Chester.
Chester hopes that by naming his son after Saif — who left behind a wife and a four-month-old daughter, along with his parents and five brothers — he and wife are honoring the entire Druze community in Israel.
‘My prayer for you, Yaakov Zidan, is that you strive to do as much for the betterment of the Jewish people and all mankind as Zidan Saif did in his final moments’
“In spite of their having to deal with discrimination within Israeli society, it is very impressive how patriotic the Druze are to the State of Israel,” he added.
Chester said he was proud to name his son after Zaif, whom he called “a hero for humanity.”
At the end of his speech, the father addressed his newborn son directly.
“My prayer for you, Yaakov Zidan, is that you strive to do as much for the betterment of the Jewish people and all mankind as Zidan Saif did in his final moments,” Chester blessed the baby.
“May you be inspired by your first namesake to have a tireless commitment to your family and the Jewish people, and by your second namesake to be a proud citizen and patriot of your country, and that you be at the forefront of efforts to ensure the peace and safety of all people in Israel and across the world, regardless of whether they share your religious or ethnic identification.”
The Times of Israel covers one of the most complicated, and contentious, parts of the world. Determined to keep readers fully informed and enable them to form and flesh out their own opinions, The Times of Israel has gradually established itself as the leading source of independent and fair-minded journalism on Israel, the region and the Jewish world.
We've achieved this by investing ever-greater resources in our journalism while keeping all of the content on our site free.
Unlike many other news sites, we have not put up a paywall. But we would like to invite readers who can afford to do so, and for whom The Times of Israel has become important, to help support our journalism by joining The Times of Israel Community. Join now and for as little as $6 a month you can both help ensure our ongoing investment in quality journalism, and enjoy special status and benefits as a Times of Israel Community member.