(JTA) — Volunteers associated with the Jewish burial organization famous for its work at the scene of terrorist attacks in Israel waited all night at the Tree of Life Congregation in Pittsburgh to prepare the bodies of Saturday’s shooting victims.
The volunteers waited at the scene all night for permission to enter the synagogue as the bodies remained on the floor, ZAKA Search and Rescue USA said in a statement. According to the ZAKA statement, after the volunteers were allowed to enter on Sunday morning, thy prepared the bodies, a process which included collecting blood at the scene for burial with the bodies.
The bodies were moved to the medical examiner’s office on Sunday morning, according to Robert Jones, the special agent in charge of the Pittsburgh Field Office.
In Israel, ZAKA volunteers are often among the first at an accident or terrorist scene, along with other first responders. They are generally permitted to proceed with their religious duties, simultaneous to the work being performed by medical and law enforcement teams.
The ZAKA statement described a hectic night, with the organization’s Israel-based international rescue chief, Mati Goldstein, communicating all night with the local ZAKA commander, Rabbi Elisar Admon, and the local Jewish community. Goldstein briefed them on how to act in the aftermath of a mass casualty incident, in particular how to treat the scene and prepare the bodies for burial in accordance to Jewish law, while cooperating with the local emergency forces and the FBI.
Admon, who was born in Israel and worked with ZAKA there before moving to the United States, spoke Sunday to Army Radio in Israel about navigating the situation. “We are trying to work with the Pittsburgh police, but it is difficult because they don’t understand our needs,” he said, adding, “They are not taking any chances.”