Arele Klein's blog from Haiti

By Arele Klein, January 20, 2010
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ZAKA volunteer Arele Klein's blog from Haiti

ZAKA volunteer Arele Klein's blog from Haiti

ZAKA volunteer Arele Klein, 39, blogs from the field in Haiti.

Working with the IDF Home Front Command field hospital, Arele, married and father of two, has volunteered with ZAKA for 16 years.

Although he has witnessed all the major terror attacks in the Dan region, Haiti is his first international assignment.

Thursday, 14 January 2010

Ten in the morning. A phone call from ZAKA Operations Commander Haim Weingarten “You’ve been selected as a member of ZAKA’s delegation to the earthquake disaster in Haiti, we’re talking about a very difficult incident on the scale of the tsunami. Volunteers should be physically fit, mentally prepared and with experience. Please give your permission and ask for your wife’s approval.”

As a ZAKA volunteer of long standing, I had no hesitation even for a moment and without thinking for very long, I gave a positive answer there and then, on the condition that my wife would also agree. I went home, told my wife about the mission and asked for her approval. My wife’s answer: my head says no, my heart says yes. And with that I received her blessing.

At noon, all members of the delegation arrive at the Home Front Command base for briefings, vaccines and various medications against all kinds of diseases that may break out in the disaster area. Only then did I begin to understand what I was about to do and worry started to creep into my thoughts – a fear of the unknown. ZAKA chairman Yehuda Meshi-Zahav spoke to the delegation members, giving us strength and encouragement; it was important.

Overnight Thursday/Friday

14-hour flight from Israel to Haiti - a good opportunity to meet new friends from the Israeli delegation, the Home Front Command, rescue specialists, medical professionals, members of the Israel Police Forensic Unit and others. A lot of good people with the volunteering spirit who want to help, assist and rescue.

Friday, 15 January 2010

Friday before Shabbat (the Sabbath) Landed at the destroyed Port-au-Prince airport. Immediately, I began to understand what this is about, planes carrying aid from around the world landing one after the other. I begin to absorb my surroundings, the collapsed buildings, the smell, the acrid smell of bodies in the air, the smell that is so familiar to us as ZAKA volunteers. But never have I known it in such an overwhelming manner.

I find myself, together with the members of the Israeli delegation, on a football field, the delegation’s makeshift base. Amid the turmoil and commotion, a minyan for Shabbat prayers forms itself. Head of the Israeli IDF delegation Brigadier-General Shalom Ben Aryeh joins Rabbi Shaul Ofen and others in prayer. The words of the prayers take on an even deeper significance and meaning, “”O King who causes death and restores life”.

Still haven’t managed to unpack the containers, so all that we have brought for Shabbat remains packed away. We received an assignment of two challot and could only dream of the fish and meat that we would normally eat on Shabbat. At least our situation is better than the condition of the other ZAKA delegation that arrived directly from Mexico - they only have canned goods.

Overnight Friday/Saturday

Such warm and friendly personal connections have been made here – I think to myself, why do we need to fly so far to realize how special the people are in Israel?

The sophisticated field hospital was built overnight, in conditions that can only be described as no conditions. Just incredible. We are ready to begin work.

The ZAKA delegation is assigned to work in the field hospital as paramedics and also with responsibility for the deceased. I still haven’t had time to breathe, but already the rumor has spread and a long line of Haitians await treatment. There are no words to describe the pain and sorrow in the picture that confronts us, such difficult images, so hard to bear. Men, women and children in various states of injury, from light to critical, many with severed or dangling limbs, all waiting in line quietly, a chilling calm, without cries or screams, just waiting their turn for treatment.

The ZAKA volunteers receive the severed organs for burial - hands, feet and other organs, in numbers that are impossible to count. I feel a strong need to put my feelings on hold, to try to work like a robot. But it does not work over time, and, when no one notices, I move away from the tent, and break down in tears, crying for the sorrow and grief that has descended on the people of Haiti, to see other human beings, people just like me, in such a state of sheer helplessness and horror.

Sunday, 17 January 2010

Noon. A Haitian child who appears to be around ten years old – the same age as my son – arrives at the hospital after being rescued from one of the collapsed buildings, hovering between life and death. His mother mutters words and phrases in a language I cannot understand. But her eyes, streaming with tears, express everything. A mother, with all the meaning that word implies, is beside herself with concern, pleading that we save the life of her ten-year-old son. After 30 minutes attempting to save his life, I must sadly inform her that her son has died. It felt as if the earth was moving yet again with the intensity of her cries, as the pain pierced the air. I can continue my work, but I must take some time out.

Like all ZAKA volunteers, we are used to receiving expressions of gratitude from all, religious and secular, with phrases such as 'good for you ', 'holy work'. But there can be no comparison to the extent of the Kiddush Hashem (sanctification of God’s name) that the ZAKA delegation is doing here in Haiti. The public address system in the field hospital never seems to stop in its calls for our presence: “Arele from ZAKA, please report. Sami from ZAKA, please report.” From the regular soldier to the delegation commander, everyone understands the importance of, and praises, the work of the ZAKA volunteers.

Such warm and friendly personal connections have been made here – I think to myself, why do we need to fly so far to realize how special the people are in Israel?

Monday, 18 January 2010

Four in the morning. We are attending to a woman bearing twins in childbirth. The first baby is born dead. Try to avoid giving the terrible news to the mother when the unbelievable happens. The monitor jumps into life and shows that the second child is alive. I am overwhelmed with the mix of emotions.

We cannot count the number of bodies transferred for burial in a mass grave. The human brain cannot absorb the quantity of bodies that we have been exposed to in these first few days in Haiti. I discover a strange sight at one of the mass graves - families have a special tune that they sing at the graveside, a song that moves back and forth from song to tears, singing and crying. Who can understand it?

I receive a four-year-old boy for treatment, accompanied by his 16-year-old brother – the only survivors in the family who are still buried beneath the rubble of their home. Again the picture repeats itself, nothing to do but pronounce the child dead. When I announce the painful news, his brother cries out in anguish and, in total despair, begins running toward the mountains. He does not want to receive his brother’s body.

We continue to receive the injured who wait patiently in line for treatment. We work like a sophisticated automated machine, but the line never ends, it only ever seems to get longer. But who can stop at the sight of people so desperate for help.

Tuesday, 19 January 2010

I stand above the ruins of the Montana Hotel in an attempt to find the missing Jewish 36-year-old Canadian businessman Alex Bitton, who was last seen in the hotel just before the earthquake struck. I am holding a bottle of water. A group of children aged around 6 or 7 are staring at me with longing eyes and ask me to give them a drink from the bottle in my hands. My entire body trembled when at that moment, I understood what my grandfather, a Holocaust survivor, would tell me about the significance of even a small sip of water.

    Last updated: 3:57pm, March 25 2010

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