IDF team to return from devastated Haiti Thursday

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

zaka (photo credit: Zaka)
(photo credit: Zaka)

Mati Goldstein, a 31-year-old haredi father offour whose profession and hobby are rescuing people, subsisted on waterand kosher energy bars and finally kosher US Army food during his10-day stay in Haiti saving victims of the earthquake.

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

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

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

They survived several dangerous incidents and pulleda number of students and lecturers out of the debris of the universityin Port-au-Prince.

The team arrived on Thursday, January 14, and worked onShabbat, after receiving permission from their rabbis, when theyrescued people. Those they pulled out had suffered fractures but arerecovering, he said. The Mexican authorities invited Goldstein to theircountry to receive an award, but he said he would wait a month untilgoing there for business.

Goldsteinhas much disaster experience, as he participated in rescues after acrash in Buffalo, New York, the terrorist attack in Mumbai, theThailand tsunami and other catastrophes. Having spent a decade as aZAKA volunteer, the Mevo Horon resident has his own company thatteaches hospital staffers and others how to save lives in mass-casualtyevents.


One of the hardest things was not being able to speak to hisfamily for days due to the lack of satellite phones: His wife gavebirth to their youngest child just two months ago, and their oldest issix years old.

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

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

Asked if it was frustrating to rescue people who might die ofdisease or hunger in the near future, Goldstein said that the Israelidelegation and the world were trying their best to keep survivorsalive. "After an earthquake, the first week is spent rescuing, the nexttwo weeks treating the wounded and sick, and then taking care of a lotof the chaos. We did the maximum. Each catastrophe is different and welearn 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 prayershawls, but they earned a lot of respect.

There was violence, and one foreign rescuer in Haiti waswounded in the crossfire when desperate locals tried to break intosupermarkets.

He dismissed claims that the US did not perform speedily andwell after the earthquake. "They did not bring a field hospital, as itwas decided that they would focus mostly on security, and they did thatwell," 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 inHaiti will conclude its operations in the next few days and its memberswill return to Israel by Thursday.

It said the decision came following the arrival of additionalaid 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 offunctionality, it said.

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

Jerusalem Post staff contributed to this report.