Who is zaka?
Yehuda Meshi Zahav
In 1995, Yehuda Meshi-Zahav founded the volunteer life-saving rescue and recovery organization ZAKA (the Hebrew acronym for Disaster Victim Identification). His sacred work with honoring the dead first began in 1989, when, as a yeshiva student, he and his fellow students helped at the aftermath of the 405 bus terror attack outside Jerusalem – and continued through the Second Intifada.
For thirty years, as a member of the Eda Haredit sect in Mea Shearim, Meshi-Zahav participated in demonstrations against the Zionist establishment on issues ranging from opening movie-houses on Shabbat to archeological digs. His lifestyle and thinking changed completely in the 1990s, with the suicide bombings that tore apart families and society – regardless of religious or political affiliations. This complete shift from anti-Zionist to a leader within Israeli society found its ultimate expression in 2003 when Meshi-Zahav was chosen to light the torch at the official Independence Day celebrations
Before founding ZAKA, Meshi-Zahav was involved in marketing and PR for a number of companies in the Haredi market, as well as organic products from Gush Katif. In 1983, Meshi-Zahav was a newspaper editor and publisher of Haredi literature. He is a graduate of the Ir David Kollel.
Meshi-Zahav continues to promote pluralism and tolerance within Israeli society, working to change the perceptions and narrow the gaps between the religious and secular in Israel, as well as reaching out to Israel’s minority communities to volunteer in ZAKA. He is an avid and vocal supporter of haredim serving in the IDF, with two of his sons serving in elite combat units. He is also a vocal supporter of those haredim who wish to join the workforce. Within the framework of his chairmanship of ZAKA, Meshi-Zahav is in close contact with lay and religious leaders in the Christian and Muslim communities in Israel and around the world.
He has been awarded various awards for his service including the Yigal Alon Prize for Outstanding Pioneering Service to Israeli Society (2005), the President’s Award for Volunteering (2003), the Health Minister’s Award (2003), the Menachem Begin Prize (2002), Citation from the Mayor of Jerusalem (2002), Award from the Labor and Welfare Ministry (2001), Outstanding Volunteer Award from the United Nations (2001) and a Citation from the City of New York (2001).
Letter From the Chairman
Welcome to our website, which will give you a glimpse into the important, sacred work of ZAKA inIsraeland overseas, as well as regular updates on our activities.
Today, ZAKA has over 3,000 volunteers deployed throughoutIsrael, on call, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. ZAKA is a unique volunteer organization with a unique mission – to ensure a full Jewish burial for victims of unnatural death, be it accident, terror attack or natural disaster. As we value the living, so we must show respect to the dead. That is why our volunteers are always the last to leave the scene of a fatal incident, as they clear the area of spilled blood and human remains.
Our specialist search and rescue volunteer units work in close cooperation with the emergency services. Recognized by the Defense Ministry as an ‘aid organization in times of emergency’, we train with the IDF Home Front Command and we work together when the home front becomes the front line.
ZAKA is part of the consensus in Israel, taking the values of volunteerism into the wider community, building bridges and bringing together people of all religions and backgrounds. We are proud of the fact that ZAKA is ranked among Israelis as the second most esteemed organization after the IDF.
Our scriptures tell us that man is made in the divine image, every man – whatever his religion, race or creed. That is why the UN-recognized ZAKA International Rescue Unit goes to the ends of the earth – literally- to offer humanitarian assistance, from Haiti to Japan, India to Nepal.
As a voluntary organization, ZAKA’s very existence is based on the support and generosity of friends in Israel and around the world. Not everyone is equipped with the emotional strength to deal with the difficult scenes and situations that ZAKA volunteers confront every day. Not all of us have that capability. But each and every one of us has the ability to be a partner in this sacred work.
Your support and generosity will allow the blessed work of ZAKA to continue.
We turn you to you, heart to heart, and invite you to partner with ZAKA by donating much-needed equipment.
ZAKA Chairman and Founder
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