Yehuda Meshi Zahav, founder and chairman of the ZAKA rescue organization, was tapped for the 2021 Israel Prize in the category of “Lifetime Achievement and Special Contribution to Society and the State,” Israeli Education Minister Yoav Galant announced on Tuesday.

Meshi Zahav, who in January lost mother and father to COVID-19, after the death of his brother, said: “In a month full of tears of pain and sorrow after the triple family loss that I have suffered, finally my eyes shed tears of happiness with [this] joyous news. … Later in the day, I will go up to the grave of my late parents to tell them the good news and give them moments of contentment.”

He emphasized that the award is “not only mine but belongs to the thousands of ZAKA volunteers in Israel and around the world who dedicate their lives to helping others, saving lives and honoring the dead.”

The Israel Prize, the nation’s highest cultural honor, is awarded annually on Israeli Independence Day, which this year falls on April 15.

The awards committee, chaired by Sheba Medical Center director-general Yitshak Kreiss, said Meshi Zahav “serves as an example and role model for the spirit of volunteering in Israeli society in all its forms. He dedicates his life to unity within Israel out of a sense of mission and a genuine belief in the need to build bridges and maintain a dialogue between all sectors of society as the key to a shared existence.”


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