ZAKA (Hebrew acronym for Disaster Victim Identification) is an Israeli volunteer-based EMT unit that specializes in disaster victims’ recovery and identification. An emergency volunteer who was at the scene of Sunday’s deadly attack in Jerusalem, in the following social media post, recounts the horrific moments and the thoughts and feelings he experienced while tending to the victims. 

The bottom line is that we are the ZAKA volunteers

We have the capacity to deal with difficult scenes.

We are accustomed to the difficult experience of handling the dead and the murdered.

We deeply absorb the grief and the pain.

We take in the tragedy in which we find ourselves.

We feel the crazy horror around us.

We live the “chesed” or virtue of handling fatalities.

In the last three years, we find ourselves at countless terrorist attacks. The ground is burning. Blood is spilled. Stabbings and car ramming incidents in every corner of Jerusalem, the capital of Israel. Another victim stabbed, another woman murdered, another body, another pool of blood. We understand that this is our routine, it’s our life, reality explodes in our face once again, every attack brings bad news and tragedy with the number of dead and injured.

We will always be there to “save those who can be saved and honor those who cannot.”

I have never written a post in which I unload my feelings, sharing to social media with all that implies, to tell and explain in a nutshell what the ZAKA volunteers go through while handling the bodies of the murdered at attack after attack. And all this, alongside routine traffic accidents, murder, suicide, fatal fires, and a large number of other incidents of the angel of death that require our assistance.

The attack at Armon Hanatziv took from me what no other cruel attack has been able to –  not the four people murdered in the Har Nof attack, not the shooting at Damascus Gate where an Israeli border police officer was killed and not the dozens of other terrorist incidents which have become routine, incidents where we are being beaten without end with the wounded and the dead.

I was at a work meeting when I hear the report over the ZAKA radio. The dispatching of volunteers to head out to the scene … In those initial moments I make a calculation that I’m not the closest to the scene and it’s for sure just another “routine” stabbing or car ramming attack with two or three casualties and the terrorist neutralized at best … For whatever reason, I did not react immediately …

Half a significant minute passes…

Another report came over the radio “a mass casualty incident! a mass casualty incident! a mass casualty incident in the Armon Hanatziv area!”

I grab my equipment while putting on my ZAKA jacket and race towards the difficult and bloody scene for the umpteenth time (who counts?)

I arrive on the scene as the last of the injured is evacuated into the ambulance, with a broken leg and crying hysterically. There are no injured remaining on the ground.

The chaos subsides, emergency forces start to leave the scene and we are left with the silence of death.

On the green grass, with the golden rays of the sun on a winter’s day, lie four bodies scattered around the wheels of the truck, their holy blood being absorbed into the ground.

Four young people whose lives were cut short at that moment.

Four more broken families.

Four murdered, holy and pure.

Four worlds that were once full of life once, now stopped as if someone just pulled their plug.

I scan the scene and assess the nature of our work, the holy work of Chesed Shel Emet (true kindness), stepping between the medical equipment that was supposed to bring life to the wounded and the victims’ personal belongings. We are divided into teams and start to work.

I was working alongside a close friend – together we have attended countless incidents honoring the dead, but nothing prepared us for what happened next….

As we are assisting the forensics officer and army representative in identifying the body of the young officer, we hear the victim’s phone ringing.

On the screen – Dad is calling, Dad is calling, Dad is calling, Dad is calling.

We hold the phone as if frozen.

We are four people with a lot of experience in handling disasters and we fail to function.

Dear pure and holy one, heaven bound, your father is looking for you on the phone and calling endlessly but he still does not know that your Father in Heaven has accepted you with a loving embrace.

You died in the sanctification of the name of G-d.

May your memory be blessed.