Among the winners of this year's Israel Prize were ZAKA founder and chairman Yehuda Meshi-Zahav and former Foreign Ministry legal adviser Joseph Ciechanover. The prize, Lifetime Achievement and Special Contribution to Society and State, was personally awarded to the two nominees on Tuesday by Education Minister Yoav Gallant.
To Ciechanover Gallant said, "Your contribution to Israel is considerable, notably with foreign relations, security, and negotiations, both known and unknown, with Turkey, Jordan and other nations."In addition to Ciechanover's noteworthy contributions comes Meshi-Zahav's who received the award for his noteworthy work in founding and directing ZAKA Search and Rescue.
Upon receiving his prize, Meshi-Zahav explained that it's, "Not for me. First and foremost, it's for the organization and the volunteers. It's a proof that this is the right way- that things can be different, and that every single person has an ability to help, contribute and volunteer."
One of Meshi-Zahav's main goals is to unite the nation and country through volunteer-work and helping those in need. His volunteers provide services to everyone in society; there is no discrimination between race, gender, or religion.
The idea to start such an organization came to Meshi-Zahav after he witnessed a terrorist attack on a bus that crashed near his yeshiva about 30 years ago. Prior to the attack, Meshi-Zahav was an outspoken anti-Zionist who in his words, "would join the demonstrations against Shabbat desecration" and throw rocks at the police in demonstrations that he organized."He added that, "The attack changed his viewpoint forever, when he realized the entire country was affected by terror and needed his help."He established ZAKA in 1995 after the series of suicide bombings. Both of his son's joined Haredi IDF combat units and he supports Haredis who wish to be drafted and or join the workforce.
More recently, disaster struck close to home for Meshi-Zahav. Though he himself suffered from the coronavirus and survived, both his mother, father and brother passed away from the virus. He wrote on Facebook, "Death has knocked on our door... landing stroke after stroke on us all within 30 days. Our pain is as large as the ocean, who shall heal us?”
Today, Meshi-Zahav informed Gallant, “In a month full of tears of pain and sorrow after the triple family loss that I have suffered, finally my eyes shed tears of happiness with the joyous news given to me my Education Minister Yoav Gallant that I am to receive the Israel Prize."
The happiness and honor of receiving the Israel Prize could not have come at a better time for do-gooder Meshi-Zahav.
Greer Fay Cashman and Tobias Siegal contributed to this report.