‘We held the phone as if frozen’
The following is an excerpt from the diary of a ZAKA volunteer who was at the scene of Sunday’s terrorist attack in Jerusalem
The bottom line is that we are 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 “hesed” or virtue of handling fatalities.
In the past three years, we found ourselves at countless terrorist attacks. The ground is burning. Blood is spilled. Stabbings and car ramming incidents in every corner of Jerusalem. 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.
We will always be there to “save those who can be saved and honor those who cannot be.”
I have never written a post in which I unload my feelings, sharing on social media, with all that implies, what ZAKA volunteers go through while handling the bodies of the murdered at attack after attack. And all this alongside the scenes of routine traffic accidents, murders, suicides, fires and a large number of other appearances 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 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 beaten without end with the wounded and the dead.
I was at a work meeting when I heard the report over the ZAKA radio. The dispatching of volunteers to the scene. In those initial moments I made the calculation that I was not the closest to the scene, and that it was surely just another “routine” stabbing or car ramming, with two or three casualties and the terrorist neutralized. For whatever reason, I did not react immediately.
Half a significant minute passes. Another report came over the radio: “Mass casualty incident! Mass casualty incident! Mass casualty incident in the Armon Hanatziv area!”
I grabbed my equipment, put on my ZAKA jacket and raced toward a difficult and bloody scene for the umpteenth time.
I arrived on the scene as the last of the wounded was being evacuated by ambulance, with a broken leg and crying hysterically. There were no wounded remaining on the ground.
The chaos subsided, emergency forces started to leave the scene and we were left with the silence of death. On the green grass, with the golden rays of sun on a winter’s day, four bodies lay scattered around the wheels of the truck, their holy blood seeping into the ground.
Four young people whose lives were cut short. Four more broken families. Four murdered, holy and pure. Four worlds that were once full of life.
I scanned the scene and assessed what had to be done, the holy work of hesed shel emet (true kindness), threading between medical equipment and the victims’ personal belongings. We divided into teams and started to work.
I was working alongside a close friend. Together we had attended countless grim scenes, but nothing prepared us for what happened next. As we assisted the forensics officer and army representative in identifying the body of a young officer, we heard the victim’s phone ring. On the screen are words: Dad is calling... Dad is calling... Dad is calling... Dad is calling ....
We held the phone as if frozen. We four have a lot of experience in handling disasters, but we fail to function.
Dear pure and holy one, heaven-bound, your father is looking for you, calling endlessly. He still does not know that your Father in heaven has accepted you with a loving embrace.
May your memory be blessed.