ZAKA Responds to Recent Worldwide Tragedies


ZAKA Responds to Recent Worldwide Tragedies

ZAKA – Search and Rescue has had a challenging couple months, but it has met those challenges with its hallmark chessed and dedication.

ZAKA in Houston

As soon as Shabbat went out on September 2nd, an eight-member team of volunteers from the ZAKA in Israel began preparations to fly to Houston, Texas, to offer humanitarian assistance in the area devastated by Hurricane Harvey.

However, this was not a typical ZAKA rescue and recovery mission overseas, such as Hurricane Katrina or Typhoon Haiyan, working with recovery of victims. Rather, this was a humanitarian hands-on mission in which the volunteers worked to assist the communities in any way that was needed – from clearing debris to offering assistance with food deliveries.

After an initial briefing with FEMA (Federal Emergency Management Agency) – which was overseeing the recovery efforts – and the Orthodox Union – which was coordinating the volunteers within the Jewish community in Houston – the ZAKA team set out to work.

“As a humanitarian organization, we help all those in need, regardless of religion, race or gender,” notes ZAKA Chairman Yehuda Meshi-Zahav. “On day one, our team contacted Pastor Becky Keenan from the Gulf Meadows Church, and we began working with the Christian community in the area as well.”

The ZAKA volunteers worked in the synagogue, clearing debris and removing mold and they helped remove rubble from private homes as well as assisting with the delivery of kosher food after supplies began to run low. One home-owner, astonished to realize that the men helping him had come all the way from Israel, thanked the volunteers. “We really appreciate your help. You make a big difference and it’s so much easier having you here.”

ZAKA Responds to Hurricane Irma

As Hurricane Irma formed, ZAKA anticipated the need for more volunteers in Florida and the Caribbean. The ZAKA International Rescue Unit, working together with local Jewish emergency forces including Chesed Shel Emes (CSE), established two fully-equipped command centers to offer assistance to the local communities when weather conditions would permit.

Five ZAKA volunteers arrived in Florida directly from their week-long clean-up operation in Houston, where they joined forces with C.S.E. Miami (Chesed Shel Emes) under the direction of Mark Rosenberg to help the local community. ZAKA International Rescue Unit Chief Officer Mati Goldstein flew in from Israel to lead the team.

In St. Martin, ZAKA volunteers assisted in a multi-national WhatsApp rescue operation that included Israel, the USA and Holland, working before and into Shabbat (Sept 8/9). They facilitated the rescue of the wife and children of the Chabad emissary, as well as another eight Jewish visitors stranded on the island.

ZAKA Search and Rescue in Mexico

On September 19th, an earthquake measuring 7.4 on the Richter scale hit 120 kilometers south of Mexico City. Immediately, ZAKA Mexico volunteers were rushed to the area to offer search, rescue, and recovery assistance.

Working in cooperation with Cadena Mexico, they concentrated their efforts in the search for a missing Jewish resident who, according to reports, was in one of the collapsed buildings. In addition, the volunteers helped local rescue forces deal with the bodies of the victims.

ZAKA Mexico volunteer Benjamin Shechnazi explained that engineers checked local synagogues to ensure their safety during Rosh Hashanah. ZAKA Mexico commander Marcus Cain adds, “It is impossible to describe the scope of the disaster. Millions of people are without power, there is great confusion and distress.”

The volunteers continued to search into Rosh Hashanah, in accordance with the rulings of Chief Rabbi of Mexico, Rabbi Shlomo Tawil. Tragically, on the first night of yom tov, the ZAKA volunteers recovered the body of Haim Ashkenazi, z”l, from the rubble of the office building in which he was working during the time of the earthquake.

Goldstein added that the ZAKA International Rescue Unit had proved, once again, that regular advance training of the units around the world allows them to operate in real time.

ZAKA to establish first ever Kohanim Unit for the Temple Mount

Following the July 14 Temple Mount terrorist attack in which two policemen and three terrorists were killed, the ZAKA Rabbinical Council made a historic ruling obligating the removal of any dead body from the Temple Mount area. This ruling led to the decision to establish a ZAKA Kohanim Unit to deal with any other such incident on Har Habayit.

Today, everyone is halachically impure due to contact with a dead body, and most rabbis, headed by the Chief Rabbinate, rule that going up on the Temple Mount is a very serious sin, punishable by karet (excommunication). On the other hand, there is a commandment to remove impurity from the site of the Temple.

The religious legal decision of the ZAKA rabbinical council introduces a revolutionary idea: there is a religious obligation to remove every dead body from the Temple Mount. There is no difference whether the body is that of a Jew or non-Jew – even a terrorist.

The rabbis also determined which ZAKA volunteers should deal with the deceased on the Temple Mount and distinguished between its various areas, which have different sensitivities to tumah. Likewise, the rabbis instructed the ZAKA volunteers to carry out specific procedures before entering the Temple Mount.

Please help support ZAKA’s lifesaving work by sending your tax deductible donation to ZAKA Westcoast Attn: Kamran Imanuel PO Box 3483 Beverly Hills CA 92012 or by visiting