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Recovering Victims and Torah Scrolls

ZAKA in New Orleans: Recovering Victims and Torah Scrolls
[Press release]
September 16. 2005

   Members of the US branch of the ZAKA Rescue & Recovery
   Organization are in New Orleans aiding in the recovery and
   identification of flood victims, as well as rescuing
   water-logged Torah scrolls.

   The team, lead by Mr. Isaac Leider, ZAKA's coordinator in New
   York City, has been escorted by Louisiana National Guards during
   their stay. The ZAKA efforts have been coordinated with the
   Chief of Louisiana Police, Colonel Henry Witthorn, and they are
   operating under his command.

   In a unique operation, ZAKA and Louisiana National Guard
   volunteers, alongside a team assigned by the US Federal
   Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), waded through waist-deep
   toxic floodwaters Tuesday to retrieve six Torah scrolls from
   Congregation Beth Israel, an Orthodox synagogue in New Orleans.
   A few of the Torah scrolls are believed to be more than 250
   years old, but only two are salvageable, according to ZAKA's
   Leider. Agudath Israel of America partially funded the ZAKA
   Torah-rescue mission.

   "The scrolls at all the other synagogues [in New Orleans] were
   taken out," Mr. Leider said.

   Another task that ZAKA undertook in the past weeks is ensuring
   that the bodies of Jews killed in the wake of Hurricane Katrina
   are treated in accordance with Jewish religious law.

   ZAKA, the Hebrew acronym for Disaster Victim Identification, is
   an all-volunteer organization established in Israel by the
   Orthodox Jewish community for protecting the dignity of victims
   of accidents, terrorism or other forms of sudden death. The
   religiously motivated organization quickly grew, however, into
   an internationally recognized first-response service, mobile
   victim-identification unit and search-and-rescue team. The
   organization has shared its accumulated knowledge, expertise,
   and professionalism with rescue teams and governments throughout
   the world, including subsequent to the September 11 terrorist
   attacks on the US, the terrorist bombing of a hotel in Mombasa,
   Kenya, the recovery of the remains of the ill-fated Columbia
   space shuttle, and following the tsunami in Southeast Asia

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