Perhaps you've seen their shadowy images on TV, mostly young and middle-aged Orthodox Jewish men wearing special yellow jackets ("ephod" in Hebrew) with the word "Zaka" emblazoned across the back, slowly sifting their way through scenes of utter devastation, just minutes after a terrorist suicide bombing in Israel. At the Dolphinarium in Tel Aviv... at the Sbarrro Pizzeria in Jerusalem... at the Park Hotel in Netanya... Amidst the utter chaos that follows a terrorist event ("ay-roohah" in Hebrew), Zaka volunteers, who sometimes get to the victims before the ambulances arrive, methodically begin to administer first-aid to the injured, and advise Magen David Adom ambulance crews as to who needs the most critical care. It is always a bone-chilling experience. Many Zaka volunteers have had the unenviable task of cradling a dying child in their arms or a severely maimed victim, crying out for mercy. As the smoke finally begins to clear and the sounds of ambulance sirens fade in the distance, Zaka volunteers then begin the grim task of scraping up blood, body parts and deceased victims (of Jew and non-Jew alike) to prepare them for a proper burial.
Zaka volunteers are the true "unsung heroes" on the front-lines of Israel's incessant battles against terrorism. Zaka volunteers have had to not only endure the terrible sights and smells which are forever etched into their memory banks, they have had to dodge bullets from snipers, as well as secondary "human bombs" who have been trained by various groups to lurk in the shadows until after an initial suicide strike and then explode themselves amidst the volunteers, ambulance workers, police, soldiers, and innocent bystanders.
Almost all of Zaka's 1,500 volunteers across Israel, are married and gainfully employed. "All of our volunteers are family-oriented people and have jobs, as a basis or foundation for a stabilized life at home, which is critical to this job," says Talia Zaks, Deputy Director of Zaka's General Projects and International Affairs. "The biggest misconception is that Zaka is an ultra-Orthodox outfit. It is a unit that is open to anyone from all sectors, religious, secular, men and women."
To become a Zaka volunteer, one must endure a rigorous training program that tests one's physical, as well as emotional fortitude. Because Zaka has been recognized by the Israeli government as part of the country's security apparatus, potential volunteers are trained by the police, and Magen David Adom. Then comes the hard part... dealing with dead bodies.
In the United States, Zaka can be reached at:
Source: Kenneth Stephens, "Risking Life & Limb to Save Lives & Offering Dignity to the Dead." International Media Placement, Guide for Jewish Giving in Israel, Jerusalem, Israel, 2002.