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First Response, Last Respects

Rachel Ginsberg

How to tell a family that their husband and father was butchered by terrorists in the middle of davening? How to internally recharge after working for hours on the scene of a grisly terror attack? While these dedicated volunteers will do whatever it takes to ensure the honor of the dead, even the veterans admit that it never gets easier.

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Benzi Oring, Jerusalem commander for the ZAKA [Zihui Korbanot Ason — Disaster Victim Identification] emergency response team, has been a first responder on the scene of terrorist attacks, fatal car crashes, and other heartbreaking catastrophes for the past three decades. But nothing, he says, is as emotionally wrenching as his auxiliary responsibility: bearing the news to family and loved ones. How to tell a family that their husband and father was butchered by terrorists in the middle of davening? After assessing the casualties in last week’s brutal attack in Har Nof, Oring and his associates knocked on the Levine door up the street, first asking if everyone there was okay. Mrs. Chaya Levine was a bit surprised by the visit. “Yes, we’re fine,” she said, “I’m just concerned about my husband. We haven’t heard from him.” “Maybe you have a picture so we can help you?” said Oring, somehow maintaining his composure while he was about to gradually break to the family the most horrifying news they’d ever hear. “It was really a chesed,” said Chaya at the shivah for her slain husband Rav Kalman. “It gave me a few seconds to adjust. Otherwise I don’t know how I would have managed the shock.” “For me,” says Oring, a burly chassid of 50 who handles crises on a daily basis, “the besurah is harder than the pigua. You go to the levayah, see the broken families… believe me, that’s harder than the blood.” He was the one who notified the Baadani family that their son Shalom — who wasn’t identified until the night — was critically injured in the morning’s terror attack at the light rail stop. “They were crying and screaming, and I had to walk out, have a cigarette and calm down before I could go back in. People think we have nerves of steel. Maybe we do. But after a pigua, I can’t eat meat or chicken for weeks.” When people see those fluorescent yellow-green ZAKA vests, they know a cadre of dedicated volunteers have rushed to the scene — however grisly — and will do whatever it takes to ensure the honor of the dead. They will aid in the identification of the victims and gather body parts and spilled blood for proper burial. It seems these men can withstand anything, but Oring says that even after 30 years, the pain doesn’t get any easier. He flashes back about 12 years, to a Lag B’omer morning he’ll never forget. A car crash on the way back from Meron took the life of a young mother fromBeitShemesh, and after leaving the scene, Reb Benzi was assigned to notify her husband. “It was six in the morning, and he was planning to go to Meron after she came home. I got to the door and was about to knock, when I heard a toddler crying, ‘Mommy, Mommy…’ and his father answering, ‘Shh, Mommy will be home in a few minutes.’ I had to knock, but I just couldn’t,” Oring remembers. “I started to cry, and left to calm down. I came back ten minutes later and this time I knocked. Now I heard the toddler squeal happily, ‘Yay! Mommy is home!’ “It took me weeks to get over that. Every time I’d walk into my own house and my kids would say, ‘Yay, Tatty is home!’ I would start to cry again.”

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