Up to a decade ago, ZAKA Chairman Yehuda Meshi-Zahav was considered the symbol of ultra-Orthodox extremism in his role as the legendary operations officer of the Eda Haredit faction.
Only recently, however, his 18-year-old son Ariel joined the Israel Defense Forces. After a strict screening procedure, the young Meshi-Zahav was assigned to the Golani infantry brigade and participated in an oath taking ceremony several weeks ago.
Yehuda Meshi-Zahav began changing his ideological perception during the Al-Aqsa Intifada in 2001 when he founded ZAKA, a network of voluntary community emergency response teams in Israel.
The former extremist, who was arrested dozens of times in the past for acts committed as part of his opposition to the State and its institutions, was given the honor of lighting an honorary beacon on Israel's 55th Independence Day official ceremonies in 2003.
An associate of Meshi-Zahav said he accepted his son's decision to enlist without any objection.
Naturally, Eda Haredit member were furious over the change in Meshi-Zahav's approach to Zionism. A senior Eda Haredit source expressed his contempt for the ZAKA chairman after learning that his son had been drafted.
"In the eyes of Eda Haredit, Meshi-Zahav hasn't been considered ultra-Orthodox for a while now," the source said. "He is a person who knew how to explain to everyone why Zionism is a lie, and at an older age he suddenly decided to change. The education at Yehuda's house encouraged his son to join the army."
Many haredi parents avoid sending their children to the army, claiming that they would find it difficult to maintain strict modesty and kashrut rules during their service.