Casuarina Tree Circle Dedicated in Ilanot Forest

Wednesday, March 22, 2017 1:00 AM

In Memory of Dan Uzan, a Modern Day Hero

On Wednesday, March 15, the Casuarina Tree Circle at the KKL-JNF National Tree Arboretum in Ilanot Forest was dedicated in memory of Dan Uzan, who in 2015 saved the lives of dozens of Jewish Danes by heroically stopping a Palestinian terrorist in Copenhagen.

On a Friday night in February 2015, about 80 people, including many teenagers, were celebrating a Bat Mitzvah at the central Jewish synagogue in Copenhagen, Denmark. About half an hour after midnight, a Palestinian Danish terrorist loaded with guns, attempted to enter with the intention of murdering as many Jews as possible. However, 37 year-old Dan Uzan, who was volunteering to guard the synagogue, got in the way. Unarmed, he stopped the terrorist, who shot him in the head and then fled. Dan died shortly afterwards, and el Hussein was killed later on in a shootout with Danish policemen.

“I emcee a lot of ceremonies, they are all important, but this one is extraordinary. Anyone who hears the story of Dan’s life and his heroic act of self-sacrifice cannot help but be moved and brokenhearted,” said KKL-JNF Chief of Protocol Andy Michelson at the ceremony dedicating the Casuarina Tree Circle in Dan’s memory. The tree circle is part of the KKL-JNF Ilanot National Tree Arboretum, which is located six kilometers southeast of Netanya. This initiative of KKL Denmark was supported by the other KKL-JNF offices in the Nordic Countries, including Norway, Sweden and Finland.

Rabbi Bent Laxner, former Chief Rabbi of Denmark, who is a close friend of the family, said that Dan was a hero, “not just for what he did that night, which none of us will ever forget, but also because he volunteered to guard the synagogue. During his all-too-short life, he always wanted to give something to others. He learned a lot from his parents. I can only hope that this ceremony and all the people who are here to honor Dan’s memory and support his family will be the beginning of a better future for us all.”

Yehiel Cohen, Deputy Director of KKL-JNF’s Central Region, told the audience about the arboretum’s history and purpose. It was originally established 60 years ago as a collection of 300 tree species originating in 25 habitats around the world that were studied to determine which would best flourish in Israel. Today, thanks to KKL-JNF, the 13-hectare site has been declared a national botanical garden for trees, open to the public at large, with special features, such as interactive educational applications.  The Casuarina Tree Circle at the Ilanot Arboretum includes an accessible trail leading visitors from the arboretum's entrance to the heart of the tree circle and an open space at its center that can also contain people with special needs and disabilities. The unique tree circle formed by the Casuarina creates a green dome above visitors' heads, giving the site a distinctively peaceful atmosphere.
His Excellency Jesper Var, the Danish ambassador to Israel, noted that “wherever terror strikes, it’s all the same. The Danish people were shocked at this reprehensible deed. It was an attack on our values, and an attack on the Jews is an attack on all Danes. Dan made the ultimate sacrifice. We are here to honor him and to pay homage to Dan’s family. We cannot imagine how difficult it must be for them.”

Jonathan Berger, the cultural attaché to the United States embassy, said that the ceremony “demonstrates how it is possible to react to such a horror with dignity and uphold our common values. May Dan’s memory be blessed.”

By the time His Excellency Karl Magnus Nesser, the Swedish Ambassador to Israel, began to speak, a steady and powerful rain had begun to fall, as if the skies were also weeping for Dan. Although he was drenched to the bone, the Swedish ambassador was not to be deterred, and neither was the audience. “Sweden has an ambitious agenda to combat terrorism,” he said. “Let us remember Dan Uzan and his incredible act of courage. This was an attack against us all.”

The downpour showed no signs of stopping, so the audience walked back to the Ilanot Visitors Center. According to Liri Eitan Drai, KKL-JNF Scandinavian Desk Manager, who was responsible for organizing the moving ceremony in memory of Dan, the Visitors Center “is currently being rehabilitated thanks to a bequest of Gerhard Herzog, a supporter of KKL-JNF Denmark.” 
 
Wolfgang Mueller, the President of KKL Norway, said that the Ilanot Tree Arboretum was the perfect place to remember Dan. “A tree is alive, it is a symbol of life, and it reminds us of the belief in eternal life.”

Her Excellency Torunn Viste, the Minister Counsellor of the Royal Norwegian Embassy, recalled that Norway was full of sorrow over Dan’s heroic death. “We realized that if it could happen in Copenhagen, it could happen in Oslo. What happened to Dan should never happen to anyone. We will never forget him.”

As the rain began to stop, Sergio Uzan, Dan’s father, spoke to the audience as tears choked his voice. “Our son believed in human beings, but his life was cut short by Islamic terrorism. Dan’s values inspire us, we will never forget him. This site, which was chosen to honor his memory, is a symbol of life, values, kindness and respect. The quiet here enables one to commune with Dan’s love for his fellow human beings. May it be an inspiration to build bridges towards a sustainable future for the common good. I want to thank KKL-JNF and everyone here from the bottom of my heart. We miss Dan every day. He is in our hearts, and he will be there forever.”