JERUSALEM (VINnews) — ZAKA founder and director Yehuda Meshi-Zahav has received the Israel Prize for Lifetime Achievement for the year 2021. Meshi-Zahav received the news from Education Minister Yoav Galant, who praised him for his selfless dedication to acts of kindness and for his efforts to encourage unity within Israel.
Meshi-Zahav, who appeared moved by the gesture, said that the prize is not only for him but also for all the ZAKA volunteers, and added that this was a victory for the view that chareidim can contribute meaningfully and be a part of the state of Israel.
Galant also mentioned the terrible tragedies which Meshi-Zahav has suffered recently with the loss of his parents and brother within one month and offered his condolences.
In 1995, Yehuda Meshi-Zahav founded the volunteer life-saving rescue and recovery organization ZAKA (the Hebrew acronym for Disaster Victim Identification). His sacred work with honoring the dead first began in 1989, when, as a yeshiva student, he and his fellow students helped at the aftermath of the 405 bus terror attack outside Jerusalem – and continued throughout the Second Intifada.
For thirty years, as a member of the Eda Haredit sect in Mea Shearim, Meshi-Zahav participated in demonstrations against the Zionist establishment on issues ranging from opening movie-houses on Shabbat to archeological digs. His lifestyle and thinking changed completely in the 1990s, with the suicide bombings that tore apart families and society – regardless of religious or political affiliations. This complete shift from anti-Zionist to a leader within Israeli society found its ultimate expression in 2003 when Meshi-Zahav was chosen to light the torch at the official Independence Day celebrations.
Meshi-Zahav continues to promote pluralism and tolerance within Israeli society, working to change the perceptions and narrow the gaps between the religious and secular in Israel, as well as reaching out to Israel’s minority communities to volunteer in ZAKA. He is an avid and vocal supporter of chareidim serving in the IDF, with two of his sons serving in elite combat units. He is also a vocal supporter of those chareidim who wish to join the workforce.