[Hat tip Kracower]
ZAKA chairman Yehuda Meshi Zahav describes sparingly and with restraint the things he and thousands of his volunteers at ZAKA do. ZAKA is a haredi (ultra-Orthodox Jewish) organization that rescues, identifies, and traces Jewish disaster victims in Israel and all over the world under sometimes virtually impossible conditions. Such a mission requires love of one’s fellow man, great empathy, faith, and a belief that good will come of it. It requires Zahav, a man with impeccable curly white payess (sidecurls).
Two months ago, following a four-year struggle, ZAKA won recognition as an official UN consultant and observer. The eventual decision was taken unanimously by a special UN committee composed of representatives of 19 countries, including Iran, Sudan, Venezuela, Cuba, Turkey, China, Russia, Pakistan, Uruguay, Burundi, Greece, the US, and Israel.
“Globes”: Did Iran and Pakistan also vote in favor?
Zahav: “There was no opposition, not even one country. We sent our representative, who met with every one of the committee members. The Iranians asked us if the report that ZAKA treats Jews first and Arabs later at terrorist events was true. We said that they hadn’t read it correctly. We treat the victim first, and then the murderer, regardless of nationality. They realized this, and voted in favor.”
About-face: From extremist haredi operations officer to national hero
Once upon a time, Zahav was the operations officer of the Eda Haredit extremist haredi group. He led demonstrations against Sabbath desecration, burnt Israeli flags, fasted and wore mourning clothes on Israel Independence Day, illegally removed dead bodies from the Abu Kabir Forensic Institute to prevent autopsies from being performed and put mice into the pathologists’ rooms, and sneaked onto archeological sites in order to prevent archeological excavations. Since then, however, Zahav has been honored by being asked to light a torch on Mt. Herzl while calling aloud in a clear voice, “For the glory of the state of Israel.” His grandfather, Rabbi Yosef Sheinberger, the mythological leader of the Eda Haredit and a fanatical opponent of the founding of Israel, refused to speak with Zahav for the last four years of his life. For Sheinberger, what Zahav did was a desecration of God’s name.
The change in Zahav began on July 6, 1989, when a terrorist blew up a bus on the 405 route from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. It happened on a road in front of the Telz-Stone yeshiva (Jewish religious seminary) in Neva Ilan. Zahav and his friends wanted to see what was happening, “and then, when the dismembered bodies were laid out before my eyes, when the sirens were echoing among the smoky fragments of the bus, when the bloodstained clothes were scattered over the area, when entire families were broken and erased in an instant, I realized that the quarrels between us were meaningless. The type of skullcap you wear and the kind of clothes you wear pale in comparison with the real war we’re faced with. The Arab enemy doesn’t distinguish between the blood of a haredi, a secular person, and someone who’s modern Orthodox. We’re all connected. There’s no right or left. Everyone’s pain is the same. That was the moment when I crossed the lines and abandoned the ideology of haredi Judaism,” he later said, just before lighting the torch in honor of the ZAKA volunteers in 2003.
“Since then,” he says today, “I have been repenting. I put my efforts in the right place.” That also includes severe criticism of the leaders of the community he is identified with. “I didn’t see the haredi leaders with the bereaved families,” he said during one of the IDF campaigns in the Gaza Strip. “There were 20,000 people at the funeral, but I didn’t see black clothes there. There might have been haredim here or there, but when we want to, we can fill any place with black clothes.”
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Published by Globes [online], Israel business news – www.globes-online.com – on April 27, 2016
© Copyright of Globes Publisher Itonut (1983) Ltd. 2016