Comedian Joel Chasnoff, who served as a lone soldier in the Israel Defense Forces, remembers looking down at the dog tags he was handed during his army induction. His first name had been changed to the Hebrew Yoel, but mysteriously his last name was now “Shetznitz.”
“I told the 18-year-old kid making the tags that he misspelled my name,” recalled Chasnoff. “So don’t die,” was the soldier’s reply, as he waved Chasnoff off to get to the next inductee.
Chasnoff tells these and other stories in his memoir, The 188th Crybaby Brigade: A Skinny Jewish Kid from Chicago Fights Hezbollah, now in its fifth printing.
Chasnoff related that story and many others from the book during a workshop Nov. 18 at Anshe Emeth Memorial Temple in New Brunswick. He read from the rough script of a play adapted from the book that he is writing and which he hopes will become an Off-Broadway production.
Chasnoff said a major Hollywood studio, which he declined to name, is interested in optioning the book for a movie, which would be filmed in Israel.
The suburban Chicago native, 40, is a comedian who does stand-up at synagogues, college Hillels, and other (mostly Jewish) venues. He will perform at a Chabad of the Shore Hanukka celebration in Fair Haven on Saturday evening, Dec. 20.
Chasnoff’s routine and book center on his own year-long stint in the Israeli military. An alumnus of Solomon Schechter Day School and the Conservative movement’s Camp Ramah, he arrived in Israel as a 24-year-old graduate of the University of Pennsylvania disillusioned with post-graduate life and looking to take on Hizbullah in Lebanon. He joined the IDF, he said, in order to be less like the aspiring doctors and lawyers among his friends and more like Yoni Netanyahu, the Israeli soldier hero who died in the rescue operation to free the hostages at the Entebbe airport in 1976.
The reality was somewhat less heroic. Assigned to a tank unit, Chasnoff described basic training as “complete chaos with a bunch of kids shouting at each other” and “losing bullets.”
Chasnoff said he has been spending his time bringing the script to synagogues and campuses — “just finding out what works and getting some feedback.”
Audiences have told him that they want to hear more about his Yemenite-Persian former IDF drill sergeant girlfriend, Dorit — whom he married 16 years ago. “Army stories are fun, he said, “but I think people like hearing about people.”
Chasnoff, who lives in Westchester County, said he is interested in going to other synagogues, Jewish community centers, and Hillels to workshop the play. For information, contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.