IDF team to return from devastated Haiti Thursday

ZAKA rescuer: It was just like stories of the Holocaust - thousands of bodies everywhere.

January 26, 2010 00:03
3 minute read.

zaka. (photo credit: Zaka)


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Mati Goldstein, a 31-year-old haredi father of four whose profession and hobby are rescuing people, subsisted on water and kosher energy bars and finally kosher US Army food during his 10-day stay in Haiti saving victims of the earthquake.

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"I lost some weight and have narrowed my belt by one hole," he said in an interview with The Jerusalem Post soon after returning home on Monday. The Israeli-born son of a New Jersey-born former immigrant said he was willing to go to any future disaster if his help were needed.

The ZAKA rescue and recovery organization volunteer was in Mexico searching for the remains of the four members of the Saba family who crashed in a helicopter when called to help out in Haiti. The Mexican Jewish tycoon, Moishe Saba, his wife, son and daughter-in-law were killed in the air accident. After they were buried, Goldstein flew to Haiti without taking any kosher food.

He was accompanied by Orthodox volunteers from the Mexican Kedena organization, and five ZAKA rescuers worked with the Mexicans, along with the search dogs they brought, in Haiti. They were given seven vaccinations each on the plane, he said.

They survived several dangerous incidents and pulled a number of students and lecturers out of the debris of the university in Port-au-Prince.

The team arrived on Thursday, January 14, and worked on Shabbat, after receiving permission from their rabbis, when they rescued people. Those they pulled out had suffered fractures but are recovering, he said. The Mexican authorities invited Goldstein to their country to receive an award, but he said he would wait a month until going there for business.

Goldstein has much disaster experience, as he participated in rescues after a crash in Buffalo, New York, the terrorist attack in Mumbai, the Thailand tsunami and other catastrophes. Having spent a decade as a ZAKA volunteer, the Mevo Horon resident has his own company that teaches hospital staffers and others how to save lives in mass-casualty events.

One of the hardest things was not being able to speak to his family for days due to the lack of satellite phones: His wife gave birth to their youngest child just two months ago, and their oldest is six years old.

"It was just like the stories we are told of the Holocaust - thousands of bodies everywhere. You have to understand that the situation is true madness, and the more time passes, there are more and more bodies, in numbers that cannot be grasped. It was beyond comprehension," he said.

The horrible scenes did not give him nightmares, as he was rewarded with "a very good feeling" from helping to save the lives of innocent Haitian victims. "We were told there might be Jews there, so the rabbis said to go. Once there, we were very happy to save non-Jews in need," he said.

Asked if it was frustrating to rescue people who might die of disease or hunger in the near future, Goldstein said that the Israeli delegation and the world were trying their best to keep survivors alive. "After an earthquake, the first week is spent rescuing, the next two weeks treating the wounded and sick, and then taking care of a lot of the chaos. We did the maximum. Each catastrophe is different and we learn from it."

The ZAKA/Mexican team were guarded by UN people from Jordan and Qatar, he said. "There was no disagreement."

The Jewish team appeared odd in their black haredi garb, especially when they were praying with phylacteries and in prayer shawls, but they earned a lot of respect.

There was violence, and one foreign rescuer in Haiti was wounded in the crossfire when desperate locals tried to break into supermarkets.

He dismissed claims that the US did not perform speedily and well after the earthquake. "They did not bring a field hospital, as it was decided that they would focus mostly on security, and they did that well," Goldstein said.

ZAKA, which has 1,500 volunteers, is raising money for its operations at

Meanwhile, the IDF confirmed that its medical and rescue team in Haiti will conclude its operations in the next few days and its members will return to Israel by Thursday.

It said the decision came following the arrival of additional aid forces to Haiti, including members of the US military and other, civilian aid-givers, who are now providing regular medical services. Furthermore, many of the local hospitals are at a sufficient level of functionality, it said.

On Tuesday, the team will cease receiving new patients and begin preparing to returning to Israel on a direct flight on Wednesday. The delegation is scheduled to arrive at Ben-Gurion Airport on Thursday afternoon.

Jerusalem Post staff contributed to this report.

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