December 29, 2023

Don't underestimate the millennials and zoomers of the Israel-Hamas War

By Barbara Sofer

We Baby Boomers, born between 1945 and 1981, often misjudge the generations that follow our own. First came Generation X, a so-called cynical, latch-key generation. Then came Generation Y/ “millennials” (1981-1996) and their younger siblings in Generation Z, better known as Gen Z’ers, centennials, or zoomers (mid to late 1990s-2012).

Millennials are maligned as being lethargic, narcissistic, and spoiled. Gen Z’ers are called “digital natives” because they had tablets in their cribs. They are suspected of limited attention spans, inability to detach from screens, and less interest in books. They supposedly sleep less and rely on social media for decision-making and relationships.

Every day I have the privilege of meeting millennial and zoomer heroes, and I’m in awe. At Hadassah Ein Kerem and the rehabilitation center at Hadassah Mount Scopus, I speak with the brave, patriotic, and determined young men and women who are recovering from war wounds. They may have spent many hours across from screens, but they have turned out to be team players and resilient fighters. It’s humbling to meet them; our future sits on their broad shoulders.

TAKE “T.” From the first day I met him, suffering from the pain and disablement of his wounds from Oct. 7, he insisted he was “just a plain police officer.”

More than two months later, T has moved from the orthopedic surgery department to being hospitalized in the rehabilitation department. Now he’s an out-patient, coming four days a week for physical and occupational therapy. He’s living, as are his parents, in a nearby hotel. They can’t go home because they’re from Sderot.

Recently, T agreed to meet with the men and women of the solidarity mission from Young Israel of Woodmere, New York. It wasn’t the first group he’d met, but it was a large and supportive one, and by now he assured me he could handle the English.

T winced when I introduced him as a hero. He shook his head. “Believe me, I was just doing my job,” he told the audience. “Any Israeli police officer would have done the same.”

Although he lives in Sderot, T’s day job is as a police investigator 20 kilometers away in Ashkelon. He woke up on Oct. 7 to the barrage of rockets. So accustomed to being under fire are the people of Sderot that his father left for Simchat Torah prayers at a nearby synagogue.

T’s phone rang. His commanding officer asked him to come into the station. Something was happening. T was surprised when his father returned from synagogue. The festive holiday services had been canceled.

T took his car, a Skoda sedan, and drove along the bypass road to Ashkelon. “That’s usually safer when rockets are falling from Gaza,” he told the group of New Yorkers. They nodded. Their solidarity tour had already taken them to Sderot and the Gaza region, so they understood the logistics.

“When I turned onto the highway, I was stunned by a scene that could only come from a movie about the apocalypse,” he said. “Cars, their doors open, were scattered around the road. There was no traffic. My first thought was that there might have been an accident. As a police officer, I needed to check if anyone was hurt.”

Then, in the distance, T spotted what would become a familiar image of the Oct. 7 massacre: a white van and a group of soldiers wearing IDF-like green uniforms. Within seconds, he realized that they weren’t Israeli soldiers.

“It was the way they were holding their guns. We never hold our automatic rifles at high-up head level. We wear them on straps. Then, even from the distance, I saw that the guns were Kalashnikovs,” he said, referring to the Ak-47 Russian automatic weapon. “Here were heavily armed terrorists in Israel, and they were closing in on me.”

ALMOST IMMEDIATELY, a second civilian car drew up behind T’s. The driver, “B,” was another member of Israel’s security forces who was alerted that “something” was happening. T apprised him of the situation. But by now, the terrorists were shooting at them and coming closer.

B was hit.

“In my day job, I never really need a gun,” T said. “But regulations are that we always carry a firearm. I was glad I had my pistol now. I shot at the terrorists and must have hit at least one of them because there was a break of a few seconds in the shooting. I managed to get B into my car.”

Firing out of the driver’s window with limited bullets, T knew he had to get away fast. He was just releasing the hand brakes of his car when bullets smashed through his upper right arm. “From that instant, I had no control of my arm,” he said. He stepped on the gas, ignoring every rule of traffic safety – speeding at 180 kilometers an hour, on the wrong side of the road, going through red lights as bullets smashed the glass and punctured the metal of his car.

“I was bleeding and speeding, and most of all, afraid I’d pass out,” he said. “But I kept thinking that I had to save B. When someone’s life is in your hands, it’s amazing what you can do.”

When he spotted a police patrol vehicle heading in his direction, T weaved his own battered car right and left to make sure he’d get their attention.

The officers in the vehicle didn’t yet know about the terrorists’ invasion. T warned them not to drive into the ambush and urged them to call for support. They ordered an ambulance.

As he was being evacuated to Sheba Hospital in Beersheba, T phoned his parents, warning them that terrorists had penetrated the security fence.

Hundreds of wounded were already at Sheba Hospital, waiting their turns for treatment.

Twenty-six hours later, T was transferred to Jerusalem, where he had the first of his surgeries. The bullets had shot out a piece of his arm, causing bone and nerve damage. Surgeons connected the bone with a metal plate.

“It used to take me two minutes to get dressed in the morning,” he told the group, with a wry smile. “Now it’s a slow process.”

He showed that he could now lift his right arm; they applauded.

A VISITOR from Woodmere asked T what he thought of the Gazans who worked on the kibbutzim over the border and who allegedly made the maps used by the Hamas terrorist group to pinpoint, rob, and murder their fellow farmers. The young wounded police officer answered carefully. He doesn’t make policy about the future of Gaza, he reminded them.

T explained that he differentiates between Israeli citizens and those who were complicit in the massacre. “As an Israeli police officer, I’m committed to save Israeli lives, whether those in danger are Jews or Arabs. When the war is over, we’ll still be living together.”

The group gathered round as T shared the video on his phone of his car with its smashed glass and bullet holes. “Totaled,” he said.

He’s glad to be alive.

And B, in the back of his car? He survived and is also in rehab. And the police officers whom T warned of the ambush also survived – unlike many of T’s close friends, fellow officers who served in the Sderot police garrison that was overpowered.

Fifteen senior citizens in a van with a flat tire were also slaughtered. In Sderot, 50 police officers, fire fighters, and civilians were murdered. T choked up as he spoke of the dead, many of them close friends and fellow fighters.

I haven’t mentioned that T is 28. That puts him just between Generation Y and Z. His greatest frustration, he told the group, is his inability to rejoin the fighting forces. That’s true of all the awesome men and women I meet in the hospital. Despite their wounds, they all want to get back in the fight: T, B, and X, Y, and Z – together they will win this war.