No one wants to think about being involved in a calamity, whether a natural disaster such as an earthquake, hurricane or tsunami, or a tragedy like a terror attack or a plane crash. Yet for some, contemplating what to do in these harrowing situations – and jumping into action – is the only possible course.
“ZAKA is the most successful search and rescue team in the world,” shared Yossi Fraenkel, ZAKA International Rescue Unit Operations Officer and Deputy Commander of ZAKA Jerusalem, with Breaking Israel News. “We know how to find and save people in the quickest and most efficient way possible in a calamity.”
In 2005, the United Nations officially recognized ZAKA as the premiere non-governmental organization to activate when assistance is needed during a major international terror attack or natural disaster. This volunteer humanitarian organization is now recognized all over the world for its rapid deployment on short notice during emergency situations. “If we can help, we will be on the scene as quickly as humanly possible,” Fraenkel noted to Breaking Israel News.
Whether seeking to save lives or searching for and collecting the dead, ZAKA’s teams must keep its mottos in the forefront of their minds: “ZAKA – always ready for what tomorrow brings” and “Saving those who can be saved; honoring those who cannot.”
Volunteers are on call 24/7, ready to respond at a moment’s notice. Well-trained for the often gruesome and selfless tasks at hand, personnel are required to have a certain strength of mind and spirit in order to overcome the horrible images to which they are exposed.
ZAKA Israel has now trained international divisions. These teams are ready to be immediately activated for search-and-rescue missions in 15 countries worldwide, including England, Belgium, Hong Kong, Mexico and the Ukraine. If more staff is needed, ZAKA Israel sends in backup.
ZAKA’s specialty units are outstanding at finding people on land, in water and following plane crashes. “We found bodies and survivors during the Thailand tsunami, when hurricane Katrina in New Orleans hit, following a plane crash in Namibia and Mexico, in Haiti after its earthquake and in Mumbai, India when the Chabad house was under siege, to name a few,” reflected Fraenkel to Breaking Israel News.
Its specialized units are renown for their professionalism and efficiency in dire circumstances. “This past Rosh HaShana, a Jew went to Uman in the Ukraine to celebrate the holiday and suddenly disappeared,” told Fraenkel to Breaking Israel News. “ZAKA was immediately called in. Using our drone unit, which can fly above oceans and mountains and see up to two kilometers away, we found the missing man. Unfortunately, he had drowned. But we have learned that even when the end of the story is tragic, families are grateful to have closure and the opportunity to give a person a proper burial.”
Part of ZAKA’s desire to “honor the dead” is driven by the very serious Jewish law that a married woman whose husband disappears cannot remarry until her spouse is found. “When terror strikes, our forensic team must collect all of the body parts and identify the people. We must do everything that we can so that Jewish women do not suffer additionally by not only losing a spouse but also not being able to rebuild their lives if a husband is not identified,” Fraenkel explained.
Working in close cooperation with Israeli emergency and security forces as well as countries all over the world, ZAKA truly represents the Jewish calling to be a light unto the nations. “Our international work shows what the Jewish nation is all about,” shared Fraenkel with Breaking Israel News. “ZAKA honors all life. Caring for the welfare of people all over the world is one way to reveal Godliness in the world.”