Two days following the deadly terror attack on the kosher supermarket in Paris, veteran ZAKA volunteers from Israel travelled to France to join their volunteer colleagues in the Paris Zaka unit. On Sunday evening, January 11, ZAKA International Rescue Unit head Mati Goldstein and veteran ZAKA volunteer Dano Monkotovitz immediately flew out to Paris to the site of the supermarket terror attack that left four Jewish hostages dead.
Volunteers from ZAKA Paris, under the command of Rabbi Tzemach (Serge) Ben Naim, had already been working at the scene for several hours, collecting remains and working to ensure a full Jewish burial for the victims; Yoav Hattab, 21, Yohan Cohen, 22, Philippe Braham, and Francois-Michel Saada.
Goldstein noted that the Israeli ZAKA volunteers were able to get special permission from the Attorney General of France to enter the attack scene and help collect remains. “After complex discussions and outreach of ZAKA Chairman Yehuda Meshi-Zahav, together with the Foreign Ministry and Jewish community leaders in Paris, we were able to get permission from the Attorney General of France to enter the scene of the attack,” he said.
“We went to the supermarket late at night under the security of the French police and we worked to gather all the findings at the scene,” added Goldstein.
The Parisian volunteers of ZAKA were trained one year ago at the initiative of the President of the Consistoire in France, Dr. Joel Mergui. “They were very professional in their response, despite the pain that comes with personal acquaintance with the victims,” described Goldstein.
ZAKA Paris commander Rabbi Ben Naim, who also serves as the President of the Jewish Burial Society (Chevrah Kadisha) further commented that “this is a very difficult attack for France as a whole and the Jewish community in particular.”
“At first, the French police did not understand why it is important for us to enter the scene and collect the findings of the victims in order to give them a proper Jewish burial. However, after we explained the religious significance to them, we received the necessary authorization,” explained Rabbi Ben Naim.
“What moved me is that when we arrived on the scene at the supermarket, there were hundreds of French Jews, religious and secular, standing there,” he said.
“When the crowd saw the ZAKA team go into the supermarket to do the holy work, they showed their appreciation, especially when they saw Jews from France and Israel coming together to perform true virtue – the holiest work of Chessed Shel Emet – with the blood of their brothers which was spilled like water,” added Rabbi Ben Naim.
“It was a very difficult scene inside the supermarket. It was as if time stood still, with shopping carts full of food in preparation for Shabbat in the cashier aisles and deliveries waiting to be sent to customers. But the floor was covered in the blood of the victims,” said Paris ZAKA volunteer Avraham Weinberg.
The ZAKA volunteers also worked at the scene of the terror attack at the Charlie Hebdo offices where, it has been discovered, there were three Jews among the victims.
On Monday, January 12, the ZAKA volunteers worked with the local burial society to treat the bodies of the victims and prepare them to fly to Israel for burial.
Also on Monday, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu visited the Paris supermarket, Hyper Cacher, to pay respects to the families of the victims, killed by Islamist extremist Amedy Coulibaly.