Alana Goldman
A CAMERA on Campus Writing Fellow

A Day in the Life of a ZAKA Volunteer

WARNING: This blogpost contains graphic descriptions of atrocities
ZAKA workers loading bodies into a truck after October 7th / Spokesperson Unit of ZAKA

Given the widespread celebration and whitewashing of the atrocities committed on October 7th by Hamas, where terrorists infiltrated communities across Israel murdering over 1,000 people, I felt that it was important to interview Simcha Greiniman, who witnessed the path of death and destruction left behind by Hamas. This interview was conducted on November 1, 2023. Greiniman shared a similar testimony with the United Nations during the Hear Our Voices panel on December 4th.

ZAKA is an international organization that specializes in disaster recovery efforts. Their main mission is to recover bodies and ensure a proper Jewish burial. Simcha has volunteered with ZAKA for over three decades offering these services to Jewish communities around the world.

On October 7, 2023, it was Shabbat and Simchat Torah, one of the holiest days in the Jewish calendar. Greiniman is religious, so every Shabbat he and his family abstain from using all electronics. Jewish law allows for exceptions in case of emergencies, so Simcha always keeps his phone on, just in case.

At 2 in the afternoon, Simcha got the call. He and his team made their way to Southern Israel, the highway full of bodies and burning cars. The closer Simcha got to Sderot the more bodies he had to drive between. For 10 minutes he was navigating between bodies to the right and left of his truck.

On the first run from Sderot Simcha and his team filled the truck with 20 bodies from a pile at the entrance to Sderot, and another 38 from the highway. This took hours because they needed to be surrounded by army trucks so that they wouldn’t become a target. 

They were under fire the entire time.

Prior to October 7th, the largest number of bodies Simcha had ever taken in his truck was 14. This, combined with what he had seen on the highway, greatly outnumbered that. And he still didn’t know what had happened.

“In these kinds of situations you don’t ask questions,” Simcha told me. “Your brain goes on autopilot and you work until the job is done.”

Around four in the morning Simcha finished this route and headed to where the Nova Peace Festival had been to collect more bodies. When Simcha’s truck was full from the festival there were a total of 72 bodies: civilians, soldiers, police officers, and even terrorists.

Simcha then drove to the army base in Shura to empty out the bodies. His was the first truck to arrive at Shura, and they asked him how many bodies he had, thinking the number would be around 10. 

Simcha said, “I’m sorry to tell you but I have over 70 bodies in my truck.” 

Simcha finished unloading his truck around seven in the morning and headed back to the Gaza envelope. For over a month, Simcha and the other ZAKA workers went house by house, kibbutz by kibbutz, cleaning up and documenting everything that was left—all the blood, bones, and human remains. 

Everything Simcha saw and dealt with in those kibbutzim cannot truly be imagined. It is impossible to picture the scenes of devastation that Simcha and his fellow volunteers saw with their own eyes. Some people deny the atrocities of October 7th, choose to believe the extent of the brutality has been exaggerated.

Simcha was there. He saw the bodies. He saw people that had been beheaded, babies and children. It rips his heart out every time he thinks about it.

Greiniman had been in Kibbutz Be’eri the day that we spoke, clearing up remains. In one of the homes he went into there was a birthday cake on the dining table. On the fridge were pictures of the family that lived there.

Then it hit him, the smell of burned bodies from the back rooms. In that room, Simcha saw the five family members from the fridge standing in a circle, hugging each other. And they all had been burned to the bone.

The bodies were stuck to each other, so they had to take them apart one by one. Every time Simcha took a body apart and put it in the bag he had to walk by the cake and see the pictures of the family. Every time he saw this his heart broke. 

Simcha saw the bodies of children sitting opposite the bodies of their parents. The terrorists had put grenades on their heads so that if they moved their head would blow off.

Simcha saw the body of a woman, laying on her bed and half naked from the stomach down. She had been shot in the back of her head. When Simcha turned her to put her in the bag he saw that she had an open grenade in her hand. There’s no doubt she was raped.

These are the stories that Simcha is willing to share. These are the gentle stories, the ones that won’t traumatize you. Simcha has personally witnessed hundreds of other stories that will go unshared, because they are too atrocious and too traumatizing for the public to hear and understand. 

October 7th was atrocious and brutal and Israel will never be the same. Hamas terrorists came into our homes, raped our women and children, burned our people alive, slaughtered our families. Days, weeks, and months may pass, but Jews and Israelis everywhere are grieving this devastation of our people. Let no one deny or whitewash Hamas’ crimes. 

It is thanks to ZAKA that families are able to get closure, to know what happened to their mothers, their sons, their grandmothers, in their final moments.

Thank you, Simcha, for sharing your story.

ZAKA needs more safety equipment, more ambulances, more medical supplies, more vehicles. If you have any funds to spare, please follow this link to donate. 

About the Author
Alana Goldman is a UNC student double majoring in Global Studies with a concentration in International Politics and the Middle East, and English and Comparative Literature. She is a 2023-2024 CAMERA on Campus Writing Fellow.
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