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
Finance Minister Yuval Steinitz chairs the
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.
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
Yehuda Meshi-Zahav, Rabbi Moshe Aizenbach and Tel Aviv Zaka
director Rabbi Zvika Rosental founded the Jerusalem ZAKA organization in the
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.