These are not your domesticated American house Jews. They're what Americans used to be, what our Ur-myths tell: settlers, frontiersmen, Manifest Destiny, one nation under Yahweh. Fearless but shy, they smile like gunslingers. They're rude, swaggering, cheerful, egalitarian underdogs, and at some level of bumper-sticker brain-rot, we hate them for it.
Meet the New Minutemen.
"We are surrounded by enemies all the time, who have missiles aimed at us," said Yisrael Rosset over platters full of pickles and chopped salad, bagels and salted fish. "Israel is the hard nucleus of the world."
I met Rosset when he chugged up to my hotel on his ZAKA emergency scooter, look-ing like the Fiddler on the Roof in a flip-face helmet.
I was ready for him, maybe. My black Harley-Davidson Dyna Street Bob was fueled and carried water bottles in its saddlebags. Bumping off the curb, I shadowed Rosset through evening traffic. He paddled cautiously along in his black knee-socks as traffic blared past us on both sides.
"ZAKA-Identification, Extraction and Rescue-True Kindness" wasn't so much founded as assembled ad hoc. Following a carnage-bespattered 1989 terrorist attack, nearby Orthodox Jews followed their rabbi's directives to gather, honor and return all human remains from the site. As the Palestinian intifada stacked bodies around the country, they coalesced into an organization unique in the world: Wielding plastic bags, spatulas and towels, ZAKA volunteers literally pick up the pieces of life's unexpected endings.
Lush life along the Levantine: If you've never gotten down with the chosen people, you rea
Logging well over a million volunteer hours per year, they operate in every Israeli police district and several countries around the world. Their example of even-handed veneration-returning even the remains of suicide bombers-earns ZAKA cross-cultural respect in the tinderbox of the Middle East.
Street shorthand is "Nokia connects you; ZAKA collects you," but during the al-Aqsa intifada they expanded their toolkit to pack bandages along with their body bags. When they formed a Rapid Response Motorcycle Unit in 2001, Rosset was among the first to apply.
Sedately meandering toward his flat in a north Tel Aviv suburb, Rosset suddenly slapped a hand to his ear and wobbled to the curb, punching responses into his MIRS satellite communicator. Before I even got my emergency winkers operating, Rosset burned a screaming "U" across the Ha Ta'arucha Bridge, bubble-light blazing.
Game on, then.
With Israel's nationally integrated emergency dispatch, a call to one is a call to all. Besides, Dreamsicle-orange scooter and archaic buckle-shoes notwithstanding, Rosset is one fast old man.
Military Police do all they can to herd traffic so the medics can speed to casualties.
With Rosset's siren wailing and blipping like a clocksprung metronome, we slashed through HaYarkon traffic like Moses parting the Reed Sea. Jumping a curb near Shlomo Lahat Promenade, we snaked our mounts down brick walkways to a segregated Haredi beach where ultra-Orthodox bathers had dialed for aid after dragging a boy out of the surf. Just far enough past his bar mitzvah to swim with men, the kid was nearly drowned by the stormy waves busting against the breakwater.
Israelis devised the innovative one-handed pressure bandages we all tried to score for our vehicles in Iraq. The respirator, defibrillator and epinephrine in Rosset's scooter box also put U.S. combat lifesaver bags to shame. Hopping off his scooter, Yisrael grabbed an O2 bottle and his jump-start kit and shouldered through the crowd, face shield up and locked.
Response time from call to attendance: 2 minutes flat.
The swimmer crowd gathered for a golf clap as Rosset carefully repacked his top box. Just as we got turned around to leave, Magen David Adom's ambulance pulled up. Bucking moderate traffic, the crew's response time was 10 minutes.
When breathing stops, it's a 4-minute trip to irreversible brain damage.