ZAKA Rescue Organization Founder to Receive Israel Prize for Lifetime Achievement
JNS.org – Yehuda Meshi Zahav, founder and chairman of ZAKA, will receive the 2021 Israel Prize in the category of “Lifetime Achievement and Special Contribution to Society and the State,” Israeli Education Minister Yoav Galant announced on Tuesday.
ZAKA, the Hebrew acronym for “Disaster Victim Identification,” is a volunteer search, rescue and recovery organization that responds to accidents, terror attacks and natural disasters. The organization’s 5,000 volunteers are professionally trained and equipped and participate in specialty units deployed throughout Israel.
ZAKA is also recognized by the United Nations as an international humanitarian organization that works for the benefit of all mankind, regardless of race, religion or creed.
Meshi Zahav, who in January lost his brother and his parents—his mother and father to COVID-19—said: “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 [this] joyous news … Later in the day, I will go up to the grave of my late parents to tell them the good news and give them moments of contentment.”
Meshi Zahav said that the award is “not only mine, but belongs to the thousands of ZAKA volunteers in Israel and around the world who dedicate their lives to helping others, saving lives and honoring the dead.”
The Israel Prize, Israel’s highest cultural honor, was established in 1953 and is awarded annually on Israeli Independence Day, which this year falls on April 15.
The awards committee, chaired by Sheba Medical Center Director General Yitshak Kreiss, stated that Meshi Zahav “serves as an example and role model for the spirit of volunteering in Israeli society in all its forms. [He] dedicates his life to unity within Israel out of a sense of mission and a genuine belief in the need to build bridges and maintain a dialogue between all sectors of society as the key to a shared existence.”
According to the ZAKA website, in his youth, Meshi Zahav was an anti-Zionist who participated in demonstrations against the state on issues ranging from opening cinemas on Shabbat to archaeological digs. His thinking changed radically in the 1990s with the suicide bombings targeting Israelis, regardless of religious or political affiliations. Today, he supports haredi enlistment in the Israel Defense Forces—with two of his sons serving in elite combat units—and haredi participation in the workforce.