Disgraced ZAKA founder dies a year after suicide attempt

Yehuda Meshi Zahav attempted suicide in 2021 amid allegations that he was a serial sexual abuser.

By World Israel News Staff

Yehuda Meshi Zahav, the founder of the ZAKA emergency relief service, died on Wednesday morning one year after he attempted suicide amid multiple allegations that he was a serial sexual abuser.

Meshi Zahav, who was 62, had been hospitalized in a comatose state at Jerusalem’s Herzog Medical Center since his 2021 suicide attempt. The hospital’s announcement did not disclose the cause of death.

Born to an ultra-Orthodox family in Jerusalem, Meshi Zahav’s transformation from a vocal anti-Zionist to strong advocate for unity in Israeli society made him a popular figure in Hebrew language media.

He founded the ZAKA organization, which provides first-responders and paramedics at the scene of terror attacks and accidents, and quickly became an important symbol for ultra-Orthodox integration in mainstream Israeli discourse. Its volunteers helped identify bodies and collected remains for Jewish burial.

The name is an acronym for the Hebrew words “Disaster Victim Identification.”

Meshi-Zahav was awarded numerous prizes for his work and lit a torch during Israel’s Independence Day celebrations in 2003, a significant national honor.

But after then-Education Minister Yoav Gallant announced that Meshi Zahav was set to receive one of the Jewish State’s most meaningful honors, the Israel Prize, allegations about sexual misconduct by Meshi Zahav emerged in a Haaretz investigation.

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Subsequently, around twenty people, both men and women, told Hebrew media they had been raped or sexually abused by him, some of them while they were minors.

Channel 12 News reported that Meshi Zahav was known as a serial sexual predator within the ultra-Orthodox community, and that the police were aware of crimes committed by him but failed to properly investigate or prosecute a number of incidents in which he was involved.

Just days before Uvda, an investigative program on Channel 12, was expected to cover the allegations against Meshi Zahav, he attempted suicide in his Jerusalem apartment.

Channel 12 reported that in his suicide note, Meshi Zahav said the charges against him were “libel” and “a pile of lies. They said I was a pedophile and a necrophiliac; the only thing missing was cannibalism.”