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Yossi Landau woke up to sirens shortly after 6:30am, Oct. 7. He instructed his 14 grandchildren staying with him in his Ashdod house to swiftly make their way to the shelter. Israeli army officials radioed to tell him to “just be alert” and that they “have no idea what’s going on.” By that point, thousands of Hamas rockets were firing into Israel, and almost no one knew about the massacre that was transpiring.

A few hours later, he got a call asking him to drive to the scene of the attacks, bringing with him as much ammunition and as many body bags as he could.

As Zaka head of operations for the southern region of Israel, Landau and his three thousand colleagues have the grim job of gathering all components of the deceased, including blood, to ensure they are interred, following Jewish religious customs. Landau became one of the initial aid workers to observe firsthand the havoc and carnage caused by the events of October 7.

Founded in 1995, Zaka, a Hebrew acronym for “disaster victim identification,” responds to terror attacks, accidents or disaster. Comprising the spectrum of religious backgrounds and denominations, it does not discriminate in its recovery efforts. Zaka has lent its expertise and assistance to terror attacks in Mumbai, Istanbul and Taba, as well as natural disasters like the Japanese tsunami and Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans.

Canadian Marshall F. Shapiro spearheaded Zaka’s North American charitable arm.

Bodies, he said, were all over the road – police, civilians, terrorists.

“Hundreds of bullets went over my head,” he told attendees Thursday, when he spoke at Toronto’s Village Shul, a midtown Orthodox synagogue.

“We found plans on terrorist’s bodies that marked and highlighted everything. Shuls were highlighted,” he said of would-be targets.

“Everybody was shot – total families, children, everyone. Israelis, non-Israelis,” he said of arriving in Sderot, an Israeli town near Gaza. “We checked vital signs. We managed to load up 60 people. We saved their lives.”

“The victims – the sun was baking the bodies. What choice, but to find a truck, break open the lock and use it as a storage house for bodies. Meanwhile, fighting came from terrorists that were hiding in houses,” he added.

An Israeli woman in a car was shot twenty times, but somehow her three-year-old daughter, Avigail, also in the car, was unhurt. When Landau found her, she asked “are you friendly?” and wanted a sign that he was not going to hurt her.

“I almost fainted. I couldn’t handle it,” he told the crowd in Toronto. He recited one of Judaism’s seminal prayers – the Shema, Hear O’ Israel – to prove to the girl he was Jewish. 

“I had to cover her eyes and hand her over to the police officer,” he said. Two months ago, Landau and his family celebrated Avigail’s fourth birthday in his home; she has no kin left.

It took seven hours to collect the bodies, he said. While some were shot, others were burned and continued to burn hours later, because the terrorists added flammable material. Nineteen people needed to be identified from ash, with eight yet to be completely confirmed.

“We have made a promise to identify all of them,” he said at the talk.

“We have to speak of the unspeakable, to bear witness what happened,” the 55-year-old told True North Wire prior to the event. “It took fifty years for Holocaust denial to take root, but Oct. 7 denial took root within fifty hours.”

Landau earned recognition as one of the top one hundred most influential Jews by Algemeiner. The 33-year veteran of the organization also helped recover bodies after the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks in New York.

Among the 1,200 victims, eight Canadians were murdered by the Hamas attacks. But Landau said at the talk the casualty count “was much more,” referring to the scores of injured – both physically and psychologically.

“It is our families, the volunteers, the army, the police.”

The very day of the speech, he said that an Israeli soldier took his own life, citing psychological pressure. Since Oct. 7, two volunteers in their forties have died of heart failure that Landau believes is attributed to post-traumatic stress.

He said one particular heart-wrenching moment “was the most horrible” for him. A soldier came out weeping from a house in Kibbutz Be’eri, one of the communities near Gaza that was destroyed by Hamas. 

“You never see any tears in those brave soldiers,” he said.

“The first thing I saw was a lake of blood. A father and mother, hands tied behind their backs in one side of the living room. They were shot in the back. The other side of the room were two children in the same position, missing body pieces. They were tortured. I’m starting to think, ‘did the children see what happened to the parents? Did the parents see what happened to the children?’”

Landau approached his team of six, and asked six others to join in the recovery effort.

“I won’t be angry if someone says they can’t do it,” he told them – but all twelve stepped forward.

Landau’s final message to those in attendance was: “I want to ask you and bless you, please, when you go home, give your children and grandchildren one extra hug. Keep loving and hugging them for the rest of your life.”


  • Dave Gordon

    Dave Gordon is a media professional and has worked in an editor capacity for National Post, Postmedia, Markham Review, Thornhill Liberal, Pie Magazine,, Swagger Magazine and Checkout My Business. His work can be found at