David Kramer
David Kramer

Fitting winner of the 2021 Israel Prize

Yehuda Meshi Zahav, founder and chairman of ZAKA, Credit: ZAKA

Yehuda Meshi Zahav, founder and chairman of ZAKA, is a fitting winner of the 2021 Israel Prize in the category of  Lifetime Achievement and Special Contribution to Society and the State.

I met Meshi Zahav a number of years ago and will never forget the story I learned about his organization following the devastating earthquake that struck the island of Haiti in 2010.

After the earthquake hit the Haitian capitol, Port-au-Prince, an eight story university building collapsed and trapped eight students underneath the rubble. The students’ cries could be heard from outside and the Haitian military did everything they could to locate the young Haitians. Soon after the rescue operation began, members of ZAKA, a leading Israeli rescue and recovery NGO, were dispatched to the scene and took control. The six-man Israeli delegation had arrived in Haiti aboard a Mexican air force Hercules, immediately after completing their work in the recovery and identification efforts following a helicopter crash in Mexico City, which had occurred days before the earthquake in Haiti.

They quickly made their way to the university building and after 38 hours of working around the clock with the Mexican military delegation and other Jewish volunteers from Mexico, they succeeded in rescuing the students alive from the rubble. The collapse took place on a Saturday, the Jewish Sabbath, and amid the wreckage and chaos, the ZAKA delegation took time out to recite Shabbat prayers. This led to the strange sight of Jewish Orthodox men wrapped in prayer shawls standing amongst the destroyed structures. At that point large crowds of Haitians gathered at the site and stared in shock at the men as they prayed facing Jerusalem.

They told the Israelis that they looked like angels who had come to save their fellow countrymen. When the prayers ended, the local people crowded around the ZAKA delegation and kissed their prayer shawls.

About the Author
David Kramer is an entrepreneur, educator and keynote speaker. He is the founder of NU, www.nucampaign.org, a social venture supporting Israeli organizations and causes and is the author of State Of The Heart, www.state-of-the-heart.com, a new book exploring the benevolent and altruistic side of the people and State Of Israel (Urim Publications 2020.) He lives in Jerusalem with his wife and children.
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