Jews and Druze share tables together for 'Druze Shabbat'

Jews shared their Shabbat eve tables with Druze guests, synagogue services remembered fallen Druze heroe and Druze pre-military academy students were honored.

Shabbat candles (photo credit: Wikimedia Commons)
Shabbat candles
(photo credit: Wikimedia Commons)
‘You are about to experience a sacred moment.” With these words, before a Friday evening crowd of 500 at Jerusalem’s Shai Agnon Synagogue, I inaugurated this year’s fourth-annual “Druze Shabbat.” Over the next 24 hours, Jews shared their Shabbat eve tables with Druze guests, synagogue services remembered fallen Druze heroes, Druze pre-military academy students were honored and Jews and Druze celebrated their peoples’ extraordinary partnership.
Zidan Seif, a Druze policeman killed while battling the terrorists of Jerusalem’s 2014 Har Nof Synagogue massacre, is an enduring symbol of bravery and sacrifice. Zidan left behind his parents, siblings, his 21 year-old wife Rinal and their baby girl, Larain. The Seifs have attended each “Druze Shabbat” since the Yakir organization began the tradition in 2016. As part of last Friday night’s program, Zidan’s father, Sheikh Nuhad, joined me in front of the synagogue as we chanted the prayer for the IDF and the Israel Police, first in Hebrew and then in Arabic. The prayer was translated into Arabic by Rinal, and it was read by Colonel Nazye Dabur, a decorated military officer and Druze leader, who has received multiple awards for his valor in battle (but whose most important distinction for my younger children is that he has consulted for Fauda).
After services, our Druze guests, including dozens of young couples, bereaved families and elderly Sheikhs, were divided into small groups and hosted by neighborhood families in their homes for Shabbat dinner.
At my family home, we hosted the extended Seif family and also the family of Lt.-Col. “M,” a Druze special forces soldier, who was killed in Gaza last year. The sensitivity and secrecy of his undercover mission were such that it is still strictly forbidden to reveal his name. I was personally privileged to make his acquaintance when he participated in Yakir’s “Druze Shabbat” program just months before his tragic death. It didn’t take long before the two Druze families discovered that they were not so distantly related (there’s nothing like playing “Druze geography” around the Shabbat table). At the start of the meal, just before Kiddush (which we made over grape juice out of respect for our religious Druze guests, who don’t consume alcohol), I gave the traditional Shabbat evening blessing to my children. It was for me the sweetest of pleasures when the late Lt.-Col. “M”’s two young sons approached me, so that I could bless them too.
After dinner, Druze visitors, along with around 100 community members, packed into my home for desserts and socializing. I invited Sheikh Nuhad to say a few words, but he delegated the task to his always eloquent and inspiring daughter-in-law, Rinal. Rinal Seif shared with us the complex feelings she has each time she visits Jerusalem.
On the one hand, Jerusalem forces her to relive an excruciatingly painful experience. (She did not mention it, but it surely was not lost on Rinal that the terrorist who killed her beloved Zidan lived in Jebl Mukaber, an Arab neighborhood less than 10 minutes by car from my home and easily viewable from my living room window.) On the other hand, Jerusalem reminds her of the blessings of friendship and love that were showered upon her after the attack, and which have enriched her life. I took the opportunity to wish Rinal a double mazal tov – first, upon her marriage more than a year ago to Adnan, Zidan’s younger brother, and second, upon the birth of their baby daughter a few months ago. Adnan could not join us for Shabbat. Like his big brother, Adnan joined the Israel Police, and he was on patrol duty that Friday evening.
Jerusalem’s Great Synagogue, with its diverse mix of religious, secular and hasidic (ultra-Orthodox) Jews, along with non-Jewish tourists, was our host for Shabbat morning. The Druze families stayed over in Jerusalem and they were joined at the Great Synagogue by approximately 20 Druze pre-military academy students. An enthusiastic supporter of “Druze Shabbat,” Great Synagogue President Zalli Jaffe had an expanded choir primed for a majestic service. “Druze Shabbat” is always scheduled for when we read Parshat Yitro, as the Druze revere Jethro as their founding prophet. The Druze followed along in Chumashim as the Torah portion was read. The fathers of fallen Druze soldiers and police officers were then invited to open the ark as memorial prayers were chanted for their sons, and the entire class of soon-to-be Druze soldiers stood by the open ark as the cantor chanted the prayer for the IDF. During my sermon, I told these students “that we will never take for granted the fact that Druze soldiers are fighting alongside Jewish soldiers in defense of the Jewish state, and that when my son drafts into the IDF in April, I know you will have his back, just as I know he will have yours.”
Lunch following services, at the nearby Plaza Hotel, featured an address by Druze former Knesset member Shachiv Shinan, whose police officer son, Hayil, was killed by terrorists in the summer of 2017 while guarding Temple Mount. Shinan brought along his family for the weekend, including his baby grandson, Hayil, who carries his late uncle’s name. In his remarks, Shinan charged us “to carefully preserve the covenant forged between the prophet Jethro and our teacher Moses.” Late Saturday night, upon returning to his Galilee home, Shinan texted me: “We have now returned physically to Hurfeish, but our hearts and souls remain in Jerusalem. The embrace and honor given to our fallen loved ones (and to those of us living) remind us what an amazing and unique people the Jews are, and that our painful sacrifices were not for naught.”
The writer is the founder and director of Jerusalem-based Yakir ( and is the rabbi emeritus of New York’s Fifth Avenue Synagogue.