Tel Aviv’s Chief Rabbi Yisrael Meir Lau, who also is a former Chief Rabbi of Israel, and Cabinet ministers honored ZAKA Sunday night on the 20th year since its founding. ZAKA is the Hebrew acronym for Disaster Victim Identification.

ZAKA’s activities have expanded to include medical and rescue aid, and some of its staff and volunteers recently worked in Haiti to help earthquake rescue efforts.

ZAKA unofficially began in 1989, when yeshiva student Meshi Zahav rushed to the scene of a terrorist attack after hearing the scream of victims on a bus that was attacked by Arab terrorists. Zahav and colleagues helped the victims and continued their volunteer work on an individual basis until he formed ZAKA in 1995.

The organization now has 1,500 volunteers, 34 ambulances and 162 motorcycles deployed around the country 24 hours a day ready to respond to any terror attack, disaster or accident immediately.

After the Second Lebanon War, a unit comprised of members of ZAKA and the IDF Home Front was formed to deal with any future home front emergencies. The United Nations recognized ZAKA as an international humanitarian organization in 2005. The group has assisted in the aftermath of accidents and natural disasters ranging from an airplane crash in Thailand to hurricane Katrina in New Orleans.