Zaka rescue and recovery operations have aided Israel not only in identifying victims but have often been the first on the scene, saving the lives of many victims during the first crucial minutes after terror strikes.As the people of the U.S. and Israel mourned the loss of the seven Columbia space shuttle astronauts, Israel offered practical help as well, sending experts in the field of body part identification to Texas to help NASA and rescue workers recover and identify the remains of those killed in the explosion.

Four members of the Israeli volunteer ZAKA (Disaster Victims Identification) organization arrived in Houston shortly after the explosion. Yisrael Stefanski, a ZAKA volunteer who happened to be in the U.S. when the explosion occured, said the team was briefed by the Americans when it arrived and went to work in the recovery area around Nacogdoches, Texas.

Stefanski said he and the other volunteers had been at the site of many terror attacks. “Unfortunately, we have too much experience with this type of work,” Stefanski said from Texas last week. “we will help in the searches for body parts; we may be able to find and recognize things that the others cannot.”

The ZAKA volunteers were brought to the scene at the request of Israel’s Foreign Ministry and the Chief Rabbi of NASA to aid in the identification of body parts of the Israeli astronaut Ilan Ramon.

Even though Ramon’s partial remains were soon positively identified, the volunteers remained at the scene to help the rescue worker identify remains of all the astronauts. Ramon’s remains were identified by DNA examination and the results were verified on last week by the Israeli army.

Ramon, is to be buried with military honors at a cemetery in northern Israel on Tuesday. The funeral is scheduled to take place at Moshav Nahalal in Galilee.

The chief IDF chaplain, Brig. Gen. Yisrael Weiss, Chief IDF Chaplain, said last week that further astronauts’ remains were also being tested to see if any belong to Ramon. Weiss expressed “tremendous satisfaction” that Ramon could be brought to burial. According to Jewish law, a burial can be held as long as the smallest remains are found, and then it is compulsory.

Zaka is the Hebrew acronym for ‘zihui korbanot ason,’ which means ‘identification of disaster victims.’ It was founded about five years ago after a bus bombing near Jerusalem and is an off-shoot of the Hesed Shel Emet organization, and manned entirely by Orthodox men

Worldwide ZAKA volunteers have been called upon to identify victims of bombings and explosions. Both the World Trade Center tragedy of September 11, 2001 and the Paradise Hotel bombing in Mombasa, Kenya utilized the expertise and experience of ZAKA volunteers in identifying human remains.

In the past two years of the intifada in Israel, Zaka rescue and recovery operations have aided not only in identifying victims but have often been the first on the scene with their motorcycles to save the lives of many victims during the first crucial minutes after terror strikes.

Working in conjunction with the Civil Guard, the Police and the Israel Defense Forces, Zaka (Disaster Victims Identification) is often the first to arrive at a disaster scene. It provides first aid and other help for the living, assures that proper respect is given to the dead and that all body parts are collected, identified and buried in accordance with the religion of the deceased.

‘We are an organization that honors the dead; it’s the opposite of our beliefs to leave a body laying around,’ said Zaka’s secretary-general Shlomo Bloch, who works out of a two-room bomb shelter that serves as Jerusalem headquarters.

Zaka has gained international recognition as their religiously-clad workers in yellow vests are pictured meticulously searching through bloody terror sites on news programs worldwide. In 2001, the UN recognized Zaka as Israeli volunteer organization of the year.