ZAKA, the voluntary rescue and recovery organization, will for the first time receive funding from the Treasury, according to a decision made Wednesday by the social cabinet.

Finance Minister Yuval Steinitz chairs the body.

The decision did not name ZAKA – which was founded during the second intifada – as the sole recipient, or state the size of the allocations, but described the organization’s activities in handling deceased people who were victims of incidents resulting in unnatural deaths. The money will go toward round-the-clock efforts to help victims of disasters, as well as the recruitment of new volunteers.

ZAKA brings together emergency response teams, most of them Orthodox or ultra-Orthodox, each operating in a police district. The organization is officially recognized by the government for identification of victims of terrorism, road accidents and other disasters, and when necessary, gathering body parts and spilled blood for proper burial.

It also provides first aid and rescue services, and aids in the search for missing persons as well as international rescue and recovery operations. The volunteers are dedicated to ensuring that the bodies of Jewish victims are buried according to Jewish law.

After terror attacks, ZAKA volunteers also collect the bodies and body parts of non-Jews, including suicide bombers, for return to their families. The organization has some 1,500 members, many of whom are also trained medics or paramedics.

The organization preceding ZAKA was founded when a group of volunteers, under the leadership of Rabbi Elazar Gelbstein, gathered to assist in the recovery of human remains from a terrorist attack on Israeli bus line 405 in 1989. The ZAKA network was then established in the early 1990s.

Yehuda Meshi-Zahav, Rabbi Moshe Aizenbach and Tel Aviv Zaka director Rabbi Zvika Rosental founded the Jerusalem ZAKA organization in the 1990s.

The organization is most identified with Meshi-Zahav, who was raised as a member of the anti-Zionist Eda Haredit, and organized protests and sometimes violent incidents against the police and others. Through his volunteer work, Meshi-Zahav became moderate and even agreed to light an honorary beacon on Israel’s 55th anniversary of independence.

ZAKA members deal with an average of 38 deceased persons daily. But as terror attacks have waned in recent years, donations declined, and management problems resulted in deficits that nearly closed the organization. A recovery program put ZAKA back on track, but with government donations, its future will be ensured.

In 2004 and 2005, ZAKA volunteers provided assistance in Thailand, Sri Lanka, India and Indonesia in the aftermath of the 2004 Indian Ocean earthquake. In November 2008, ZAKA volunteers went to Mumbai, India, following terrorist attacks that included a Jewish center among its targets.

Following the 2010 Haiti earthquake, a six-man ZAKA international search and rescue unit was dispatched to Haiti. Teams of ZAKA volunteers were also sent to Japan in March 2011 to assist in search-and-rescue after a devastating earthquake and subsequent tsunami.

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