The news of the horrific, fatal shooting in the Etz Haim synagogue, Pittsburgh has shocked the entire Jewish world. For ZAKA Search and Rescue USA, it was an immediate call for response, action, cooperation with the local emergency forces and the FBI and ongoing, through-the-night consultation with ZAKA International in Israel.
ZAKA International Rescue Unit Chief Officer Mati Goldstein, based in Jerusalem, remained in constant contact overnight (Saturday/Sunday) with the local Pittsburgh community and ZAKA Search and Rescue USA Commander in Pittsburgh Rabbi Elisar Admon. Goldstein briefed them how to act in the aftermath of this tragic mass casualty incident, in particular how to treat the scene and prepare the bodies for burial, in cooperation with the FBI and local emergency forces and in accordance with Jewish law.
For Rabbi Elisar Admon, the news not only shook him to the core, but also took him back to 2008 and the traumatic memories of the Mercaz Harav terror attack, when, as a veteran ZAKA volunteer then based in Israel, he was called to the scene. “The attacker ran after his victims, chasing them into every corner. To kill Jews as they pray? This is terrible, an unspeakable tragedy.”
Admon and his fellow ZAKA Search and Rescue USA volunteers were allowed into the synagogue building together with the FBI, to make an initial assessment and first identification of the victims, whose bodies remain in the places where they were killed. “The scenes are truly shocking, even though I have dealt with many terror attacks in Israel, this was very difficult to witness.”
ZAKA International Rescue Unit Chief Officer Mati Goldstein added that, as soon as the FBI has completed its work at the scene, the ZAKA volunteers will be given permission to enter the scene and carry out their “Chesed Shel Emet”, cleaning the scene of human remains and spilled blood and ensuring that the victims receive a full Jewish burial.
ZAKA Chairman Yehuda Meshi-
Zahav: “We grieve together with the Jewish community of Pittsburgh and pray for the full and speedy recovery of the wounded. ZAKA Search and Rescue USA volunteers are on the ground, waiting to enter and treat the bodies of the murdered, which are still where they fell. Our volunteers will also work with the community to offer assistance in all matters related to this tragic and horrific attack.”