Rescue efforts at the collapsed condo in Surfside, Florida, ended late Wednesday afternoon. Now that efforts have moved officially to a recovery phase it brings with it a unique set of Jewish challenges.
This volunteer is with Zaka, which is best known for their “chesed shel emet” (“true virtue” or “the truest kindness”) work.
Zaka honors the dead by collecting their remains to ensure for a full Jewish burial. They stick out at disaster scenes due to their different color vests/rescue equipment. They’ve rarely been deployed on U.S. soil but their volunteers have responded to incidents in the past.
“Chesed shel emet” refers to acts of kindness to the deceased and is based on the principle of Kevod HaMet (respect for the dead).
In the case of terror attacks or catastrophes like Surfside, this work includes recovering body parts and spilled blood and piecing them together for proper Jewish burial. Zaka volunteers are currently making every effort to do this at the Surfside site.
Other expressions of reverence for the dead include “guarding” or “watching over” a corpse from the time of death until burial, taharah (washing or purifying the body) and burying the person as soon as possible after death. Rabbi Isaac Klein, author of “A Guide to Jewish Religious Practice,” explained, “Since the body is the abode of the spirit, it is entitled to respect and reverence even after the spirit has departed from it.”
Rescuers are also recovering various Jewish texts from the rubble. These are being collected to make sure they’re handled with respect and properly discarded or reunited with family. You can learn more about the Surfside community here.
Originally Published Jul 8 2021 12:42PM EDT