How ZAKA began
How ZAKA began
Founded in 1995 by Yehuda Meshi-Zahav, ZAKA is Israel’s dominant non-governmental rescue and recovery organization, with over 3,000 volunteers deployed around the country, on call 24/7 to respond to any terror attack, disaster or accident immediately, professionally and with the necessary equipment. ZAKA, a civilian volunteer organization with sole responsibility in Israel for dealing with incidents of unnatural death, works in close cooperation with all the emergency services and security forces.
The seeds of the ZAKA organization were sown in 1989, when then-yeshiva student Yehuda Meshi-Zahav and his colleagues rushed to assist at the scene of the 405 bus terror attack in which 17 people were killed and scores injured. For the next six years, Meshi-Zahav headed a group of volunteers who overcame the horror of terror attacks to recover human remains and ensure a proper burial in accordance with Jewish law.
Honoring the dead is considered an act of Chesed Shel Emet (true virtue). In Judaism, this is considered the greatest mitzva (good deed) that can be performed, because the recipient has no way of repaying the kindness.
ZAKA (the Hebrew acronym for Disaster Victim Identification) became an official volunteer organization in 1995 and has grown organically over the last two decades, finding the best solutions to the operational needs as the scope of the volunteering work increases.
ZAKA today offers professional and highly-skilled volunteer services in the areas of emergency response, search and rescue, accident prevention and assistance in international disasters.
Specialist search and rescue units have been established over the years including, among others, a Motorcycle unit, Canine unit, Jeep unit, ATV unit, Jet-ski unit and Divers unit. In all cases, these units consist of highly trained volunteers, each a specialist in their own field, bringing their skills and dedication to the organization and ensuring the fastest and most professional response to the situation.
In Israel, ZAKA has become part of the consensus, regularly ranked the most esteemed and respected organization after the IDF. ZAKA offers a framework for thousands of ultra-Orthodox (haredi) volunteers, who do not typically serve in the military, to contribute to society in a meaningful way, providing an essential service within the most professional and disciplined framework.
ZAKA has also created a bridge between the various sectors in Israeli society, with the values of volunteerism and dedication as the connecting forces. ZAKA volunteers include among their ranks Jews, Christians, Druze, Bedouin and Moslem; young and old; men and women; religious and secular. ZAKA provides assistance to all, regardless of religion, race or creed - because man is made in the divine image.
In addition to these units, ZAKA has established the ZAKA International Rescue Unit, with hundreds of volunteers in Israel and around the world, who are ready, equipped and able to respond in the fastest time to a mass casualty incident or terror attack, wherever it occurs. In 2005, ZAKA received United Nations recognition as an international humanitarian volunteer organization. ZAKA has since become a model for emergency services around the world, sharing best practices and serving as a light unto the nations in the darkest of times.