It was a dark, cold and rainy night at a roadblock on the Green Line somewhere between Beersheva and Hebron. My body was warm due to the hermonit (basically a sleeping bag with legs, sleeves and a hood) but my feet were freezing due to the lack of insulation in IDF issued combat boots. It was the middle of the night and traffic at the roadblock was sparse. Maybe two cars every hour if even that. My mind was occupied (no pun intended) with my imminent military discharge just one week away and thoughts of my future wife. It was Channukah, 1998. A car was approaching the roadblock really, really fast. The horrid trance music was getting louder and louder as the car approached. I motioned with my hand for the car to stop and it complied. As soon as the driver rolled down his window, the pungent smell of weed hit me. Not that I would know what that smells like. Although I believe I once saw someone smoking a marijuana cigarette. Anyway, I also noticed the two striking babes sitting in the back. They were smoking hot.
“This isn’t the way to Tel Aviv?” the driver mumbled in Hebrew.
“No,” I laughed. “This is the way to Hebron. Turn around, drive five kilometers and make a right at Tzomet Shoket.”
“Oy va yoy. Are you American?”
“Yes. A very cold and tired American.”
“Stay warm American friend. Don’t eat the loof. It is very bad.”
“Thanks for the advice.”
The car drove off as quickly as it approached and my friend Ohad who remained conspicuously quiet throughout the bizarre dialogue said to me, “Harry, do you know who that was?
“No idea, who?”
“He was an actor from the soap opera Ramat Aviv Gimmel.”
“Oh, how funny.”
I knew of Ramat Aviv Gimmel but never watched it, for Ohad, it was the highlight of his three years in the army. For me, it was just a surreal experience. Little did I know, the night was going to get even more surreal.
About an hour later, another car approached the roadblock with a hanukia (menorah) attached to the top, blasting celebratory Jewish music. It was of course a Chabad mitzvah tank. The Chabadnikim jumped out of their van grabbed us by the hands and danced with us. A real “what the fuck is going on here” experience for me. I usually don’t dance with strangers but I let myself go for about twenty seconds.
The chabadnik to my left looks at me and says “Harry?”
I answered “yeah” and I looked really puzzled because I was really puzzled. The only chabadnik I knew was still running Shabbos House in Albany, NY. And needless to say, a remote roadblock on the green line is quite far from Albany.
“It’s Tzvi!” he exclaimed in English with a huge smile.
“Hmmm,” I thought. “Tzvi…Tzvi….Tzvi. Nope. I don’t know anyone named Tzvi.” “I’m sorry. I don’t know who you are.
“Oh, right. You knew me as Mike Skolnick.”
Now Mike Skolnick was a name I was familiar with. I knew him from my Jewish youth movement. Nice enough guy, but not exactly the sharpest tool in the shed. Boy had he changed. We chitchatted for a couple of minutes, my army friends commented on how I know more people in this country than they did (I always seemed to bump into someone I knew) and the Chabadnikim gave us a tremendous amount of sufganyot (jelly donuts) and sped off.
Believe it or not a couple of hours later another group of Chabadnikim arrived to deliver sufganyot. They asked us if Chabad had come yet. We said no. Selfish of us yes, but screw you, we were serving our country.
The next morning (althought I was sound asleep) we still had about 40 donuts left so my unti gave them to the workers who came through our roadblock daily.
It was a weird Channukah. One that I’ll never forget.