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Hanukkah, 1973

When we returned to our bunker in Syria the next day, we would have sweet memories of real showers, real food and the lighting of candles
Illustrative: Soldiers light Hanukkah candles in their tent in the West Bank of the Suez Canal during the Yom Kippur War. December 23, 1973 (Government Press Office)
Illustrative: Soldiers light Hanukkah candles in their tent in the West Bank of the Suez Canal during the Yom Kippur War. December 23, 1973 (Government Press Office)

We had been in Syria for almost three months. Temporarily headquartered at Tel Shams, 20 kilometers from Damascus, my platoon, Golani Brigade, 13th Battalion, were sorely in need of a change of scenery.

Command must have heard our wishes, and when Captain E. told us to pack, when the relief came in the form of a paratroop platoon, we were ready. We wound our way towards Israel, slowly, always on the lookout for some stray Syrian artillery shell that might seek us out. By this time, however, most of us had grown indifferent to the shriek of the incoming shells.

I had no idea where we were going, and I believe that my brothers-in-arms were just as clueless. We arrived late at night somewhere in the north of Israel, perhaps a kibbutz, perhaps not. A large building with many rooms lay ahead, and as we alighted from the trucks that had brought us down, we paired up, two, some of us three to a small room, with …REAL COTS! These were cots with mattresses and not the hard floors of the Syrian bunkers we were accustomed to sleeping on. Albeit, we really did not sleep, one eye on our gear, one ear open to any artillery report…

We walked along the hallways, and there were real showers! SHOWERS! with warm water, and soap, and shampoo, not the rigged hoses draining from empty barrels of fuel, making the water smell like gasoline, or sometimes like diesel fuel.

There was a large dining room, with long tables, and real food! REAL FOOD! not MRE’s with supplements of vegetables and fruit; coffee that tasted like coffee; cutlery that was real cutlery. We were in a military rest home, and it was Hanukkah. Yes, it was still the military, and yes, we had to make sure to be shaved, and clean, and properly laced up, with rubber bands in our trousers, and clean work shirts, and clean work pants…DAG’MACHIM.

Time to write letters or postcards. Time to read the newspapers that were readily available. Time to catch up on much needed rest.

In the evening, just as the daylight faded, we were all gathered in the large dining hall, and there, at the front of the hall, stood a large hanukiah (menorah). Every evening, beginning the evening of December 19th, one of us Golani Warriors would light a large candle and then the hall would burst with song, and food, and more song, allowing us to forget for just a few fleeting moments the traumas we had all collectively experienced.

And, so it happened that on Wednesday, December 26, 1973, the second Rosh Chodesh Tevet, my Battalion Commander Uri E. (later to become Uri S., head of AMAN) ordered me to light the eight candles, bestowing upon me an honor I felt that I did not deserve, and providing me with a memory I shall never forget.

The clean faces of my brothers-in-arms, shining in the light of the large fully lit hanukiah, the plates filled to the brim with wonderful food, wine and challah, all these memories to take back with us the next day as we returned to Syria.

Yes, we returned to Tel Shams, some of us to posts even closer to Damascus, living in makeshift tents, or small bunkers, and some, like myself, remaining there until April of 1974, when I would be called to become a tank commander for the rest of my reservist life.

It is Hanukkah 2019, 46 years later, and I am in a warm home in Newtown, Pennsylvania. I am surrounded by the love of my wife, and the memories that will never leave me.

About the Author
Born in Israel, Yuval emigrated as a baby to Austria and then Canada. He returned to live in Israel in '71 until '91. His military service was in Golani Brigade's 13th Battalion (including Yom Kippur War) with reserve duty as a tank commander and later a liaison officer in the IDF Liaison Unit. He now resides in Pennsylvania, USA.
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