An eight-member team of volunteers from the Israel-based ZAKA search-and-rescue organization is on the ground in Houston, Texas, helping both the Jewish and Christian communities in the area devastated by the recent Hurricane Harvey. Another four volunteers are on their way from Miami to join the team. ZAKA, which is recognized by the United Nations as an international humanitarian volunteer organization, is known for its expertise in search, rescue, and recovery in natural disasters and terror attacks around the world.
However, this is not a typical ZAKA rescue-and-recovery mission overseas, such as in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina or Typhoon Haiyan, working with recovery of victims. Rather, this is a humanitarian hands-on mission in which the volunteers are working to assist the communities in any way that is needed—from clearing debris to offering assistance with food deliveries.
After an initial briefing with the Federal Emergency Management Agency, which is overseeing the recovery efforts, and the Orthodox Union, which is coordinating the volunteers within the Jewish community in Houston, the ZAKA team set out to work.
“As a humanitarian organization, we help all those in need, regardless of religion, race, or gender,” notes ZAKA Chairman Yehuda Meshi-Zahav. “Today, our team contacted Pastor Becky Keenan from the Gulf Meadows Church, and we are working with the Christian community in the area as well.”
“The ZAKA volunteers received orders to assist mainly in the humanitarian area,” explains ZAKA Special Operations Commander Haim Weingarten. “At the moment, there is no concern about more missing people, but, nonetheless, abandoned houses are still being searched and it is still possible that bodies will be found.”
During their first 24 hours in Houston, the ZAKA volunteers worked in the synagogue, clearing debris and removing mold, and they helped remove rubble from private homes. One homeowner, astonished to realize that the men helping him had come all the way from Israel, thanked the volunteers. “We really appreciate your help. You make a big difference and it’s so much easier having you here.”