The New Minutemen: Scooters Saving Lives

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

We tootled cautiously on to Rosset's flat, where he calmly sliced up our dinner. "I am cooker," he bellowed happily from the galley-style kitchen.

An uncommon man even in this uncommon country, Rosset answers several calls each month on his Honda Silver Wing maxi-scooter. He attends regular refresher training with the national ambulance service, and is a major in the Israeli Defense Forces.

Despite the lifelong work exemption given to Haredi (ultra-Orthodox) Jews, Rosset also holds a day job managing the largest cemetery in Israel. He manages all this with a balance of reverence and corny humor.

"I'm the mayor," he said of the cemetery, "and I never get any complaints from the citizens!"

Then he unfolded a scrapbook and showed a snapshot of his IDF unit, taken just before a mass casualty evacuation performed under fire in Gaza. They took the picture because they didn't expect they would all come back.

Everyone is smiling.

Three languages of laughter poured out into the warm night air as we talked for hours about city riding, army service, middle age (we're a few months apart) and our names: "Yisrael" is analogous to "Jakov," which is close to "Jack"-and in Hebrew, "jack" means "kickstand." Rosset's lovely mother-in-law explained how her parents charmed their way out of Nazi Germany by posing as Episcopalians. An inveterate roundballer, Rosset was crushed to hear of the Sonics abandoning Seattle.

Although otherwise dissimilar to Tel Aviv's ongoing party by a millennium or five, Jerusalem also is thick with New Minutemen. I rode to the Jerusalem headquarters of Magen David Adom, Israel's state-affiliated ambulance service, near the highway's entry to that city on a hill. Facing a small Arab town across the Seam Line gully, the building has only gun-slit windows well above head level to reduce the chance of successful potshots. Safe in the basement, connected by fat snarls of hasty rewiring, MDA's tactical center coordinates EMS calls for multiple agencies.

Michael Iflah has responded to MDA emergency calls for more than 10 years, moving to a scooter two years ago. Now he proudly rides a Piaggio MP3, which he said rides like a regular bike, "but if you have oil in the road, you don't fall every time."

The Harley I was on found oil patches all over Jerusalem streets, not to mention the oil-based paint slathered onto every crosswalk and lane-line. Jerusalem is so skittery that even walking over the ancient stone of the Old City can be treacherous. Three wheels good; two legs bad!

Also important, skipping sidestand deployment cuts 20 seconds off Iflah's response time. A surprising number of Israelis think this way. After nearly 6000 years of fighting for cultural survival, that Jew Minuteman gene is bred in the bone-and shared across Semitic cultures. Both Qu-uran and Talmud explicate the point: To save one life is to save the whole world.

MDA's Jonathon Feldstein recounted the time a nearby yeshiva full of Orthodox boys was shot up by terrorists. The first responder on the scene-who had to return fire with his sidearm while treating his patients-was an Arab medic.

In the north, both ZAKA and MDA employ full units of Druze responders. Arab doctors serve in Israeli hospitals, and MDA sends ambulances to retrieve the sick from Gaza.

"The best coexistence of Arabs and Jews," Feldstein said, "is in hospitals."

Israel has a six-day work week-unless you're a medic. Then you're on call every day.

"Except Purim," Iflah reminded me. "You have to drink at Purim."

ZAKA's moto medics ride to more than 16,000 incidents per year, saving hundreds of lives and palliating thousands of injuries. Iflah himself has rendered CPR about 300 times and delivered a dozen babies, but even the saltiest moto-medics suffer occasional miscues. Shortly after he was issued new Spidi Air Bag armor, Iflah jumped off his Piaggio and forgot to un-tether his jacket.

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