The New Minutemen: Scooters Saving Lives

By Jack Lewis, Photography by Shasta Willson, Alon Tuval, Jack Lewis

There was a loud pop.

Iflah grinned. "Suddenly, I was so beeg!" He waddled in like the Michelin Man and calmly resuscitated his patient, an Arab shopkeeper who collapsed at home after Jumu'ah prayers.

"I'm going to the call and I'm not caring if he's religious or what color," said Iflah, himself Haredi Orthodox, "only if he's human being. I like helping people."

Not every patient is saved, and some days aren't so funny.

"Some things are not depending on me," Iflah said. "Some things are for God."

Down in the parking lot, my Harley was a swarming anthill of Haredi boys, sidelocks just starting to curl. Conspiring to corrupt their tender futures, I let them scrap over who got to twist the throttle and make the black beast roar, while Iflah showed them his medical kit.

A few blocks from MDA sits the headquarters of United Hatzalah, originally founded in the USA to access New York's Hasidic (ultra-Orthodox) neighborhoods.

Pikuach nefesh is the Torah's commandment to put everything aside to save a human life-not an Israeli life, but any life. At the risk of their skins, both Hatzalah and ZAKA volunteers rendered aid at the Twin Towers on 9/11.

Because no good deed goes unpunished, Jewish aid service in New York fed Internet rumors of an Israeli conspiracy to destroy Islam's good name. ZAKA also assisted after the explosion of our space shuttle Columbia, possibly indicating the presence of strategic Israeli space lasers...

Matan Nitzky made aliyah (emigrated to Israel) from St. Louis in 1996. He studies at yeshiva, rides for Hatzalah and carries only an Israeli passport.

"This is the Jewish home state," he said, echoing a familiar theme. "This is the only place on earth where I don't have to feel like a second-class citizen."

David Dahan, a frosty-cool Moroccan Jew who blatted up on a chrome-encrusted, 1800cc Honda, said every day riding the streets of Jerusalem was an adventure. A computer tech, Dahan never pauses for apologies when running off his job.

"It's 24/7," he said, "not 24/6."

Their boss, Hatzalah bike captain Zeev Sofer, is a native-born Israeli who logs about 600 miles a week on his kitted Suzuki V-Strom. What drives him?

"My bike," Sofer grinned, explaining that lifesaving motivates him but he dreamed of motorcycles since he was a kid.

Didn't we all? But while I remember biking to the Grand Canyon, through green river valleys and over the Continental Divide, Sofer's scrapbook rides have been to terrorist attacks, a wedding-hall collapse and a 3-year-old girl hit by a bus.

Stoically, Sofer disclaims bad dreams. "It's part of my daily life."

"We jump in; we jump out," said Dahan, claiming his heart was protected by "Israeli armor."

"Otherwise," Matan said, "we wouldn't be able to continue."

The famous Israeli smiles turned rueful while each rider reached for words.

"Our wives know," Sofer finally said, "that if we have to hug the kids a bit more, we've had a hard day."

Riding for ZAKA's Jerusalem office, Shimi Grossman averages 80 calls per month and he's not slowing down. A realtor by trade and a hyperkinetic exclamation point by nature, Grossman explained (more with hands than voice) why he never turns off his pager, shrugs off his medic jacket or leaves his helmet behind. One morning, the omnipresent MIRS directed him to a neighboring house to find a friend crushed under a fallen wall.

"Femoral artery bleed very fast," he said. "I am there less than 2 minutes. I stop with-what is word?"

"Tourniquet?"

"Yes! Tourniquet! And he live! I see him later, and he is walking." Hopping around, Grossman grinned the trademark Israeli smile. "Hospital give him two plastic legs. He go back to hospital and show them, 'Look! Can dance!'

"He is happy. He have reason. Nothing is better than this!"

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