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September 5, 2017 4:01 pm

‘We’re Here to Help:’ Israeli Disaster Relief Experts From ZAKA on the Ground in Houston Following Harvey

avatar by Shiryn Ghermezian

ZAKA volunteers cleaning up a Houston synagogue in the wake of Hurricane Harvey. Photo: ZAKA.

A leading Israeli humanitarian organization that has worked with survivors of numerous natural disasters and terrorist attacks is on the ground in Houston helping residents cope with the damage wrought by Hurricane Harvey and is pledging to stay in the city “as long as they need us,” a spokesman for the group told The Algemeiner on Tuesday.

“We know how to deal with big disasters, and we are here to help,” said Jackie Wertheimer, one of the Houston team leaders from ZAKA — an Israel-based aid organization whose International Rescue Unit works closely with the Israeli Foreign Ministry.

ZAKA has provided relief in some of the worst disaster zones in recent history — the devastating 2010 earthquake in Haiti, the 2011 earthquake and tsunami in Japan, and mass terror attacks like those in Mumbai in 2008 and in Paris in 2015.

Among the first ports of call for the group after arriving last Sunday was the United Orthodox Synagogues of Houston, which was badly damaged during the flooding.

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“The whole synagogue was full of water, all the books, it was unbelievable, thousands and thousands of books got ruined because of the water,” Wertheimer said. “Thankfully the sifrei Torah (Torah scrolls) didn’t get damaged.”

A statement from ZAKA emphasized that “this is not a typical ZAKA rescue and recovery mission overseas, such as Hurricane Katrina or Typhoon Haiyan, working with recovery of victims. Rather, this is a humanitarian hands-on mission in which the volunteers are working to assist the communities in any way that is needed — from clearing debris to offering assistance with food deliveries.”

ZAKA Chairman Yehuda Meshi-Zahav highlighted the interfaith nature of the relief effort in Houston. “As a humanitarian organization, we help all those in need, regardless of religion, race or gender,” Meshi-Zahav stated on Monday. “Today, our team contacted Pastor Becky Keenan from the Gulf Meadows Church, and we are working with the Christian community in the area as well. It was particularly meaningful for Pastor Keenan that a team from the Holy Land has come to offer help.”

Wertheimer said he received a positive response when telling people he had traveled to Houston from Israel.

“The people here, they’re asking ‘Where are you from?’ and there are a few guys here that came from Dallas, from New York, to help,” he said. “No one dreamed that a team from Israel would come here to help in the States, and that’s exactly what we’re trying to explain to everybody. If we can help the United States, then of course we will do that.”

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