Three Musketeers, one in Gaza: Alex's friends mark his birthday in captivity

Alex, Zohar and Dima were inseparable, until Alex was kidnapped to Gaza; after 135 days, as they mark his birthday in captivity, they are doing everything to support his wife Michal, who is expecting their second son

Dubbed "The Three Musketeers," the trio of Dima Tolochinski, Zohar Shtainberg and Alex Lobanov were inseparable. They grew up together, with Alex and Dima connecting at 13, and Zohar joining in by the twelfth grade. Choosing to embark on a grand trip to Thailand together, they have been inseparable ever since.
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"Alex is the one who drives things in our group," explained Dima. "He announces ideas and executes them."
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דימה טולוצ'ינסקי וזוהר שטיינברג
דימה טולוצ'ינסקי וזוהר שטיינברג
Zohar Shtainberg and Dima Tolochinski with a poster of their friend Alex Lobanov who is held hostage in Gaza
(Photo: Herzl Yosef)
Zohar agreed, adding, "he's our glue, always keeping everyone together - wherever we go. He's not an ordinary person; he never rests on his laurels, always looking for something new. 'Let's start this business, do that.' Before COVID, he opened a bar in Mahane Yehuda Market that exclusively served Israeli beers. The pandemic hit hard, and he had to close. Where others might have given up, not Alex. He moved on and opened an active bar that he brought to various events - even to Nova."
Alex, the third pillar of the group and the one who introduced between Zohar and Dima, was abducted from the Nova rave on October 7 after managing the bar at a party.
On the Friday evening just before the disaster, Zohar suggested that he and Dima visit him at the party, but Alex told them not to come since the event was so popular that tickets had long been sold out.
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אלכס לובנוב, דימה טולוצ'ינסקי וזוהר שטיינברג
אלכס לובנוב, דימה טולוצ'ינסקי וזוהר שטיינברג
Dima, Zohar and Alex in better days
(Photo: Courtesy)
"He protected us," Zohar said with pain. "I live in Sderot, and on Saturday, I woke up to the first alarm. I called him to ask what was happening near the party, and he said there rockets were flying around and that he was trying to take cover. We talked during the morning, and at 8am, he sent us a picture from the police command center saying everything was fine." By 9am, when Dima tried calling him, his phone was already disconnected.
On Sunday, marking his 135th day in Hamas captivity, Alex was supposed to celebrate his 33rd birthday. In two days, Dima also has a birthday, and since they met, they have always celebrated together.
Two years ago, they flew with their partners to Berlin. If he were here, they likely would have spent the upcoming weekend enjoying South American meat at their favorite Patagonia restaurant in Kibbutz Or Haner, true to the spirit of The Three Musketeers.
"There's a year and two days between us," Dima shared. "For me, if he's not here today to celebrate his birthday, I can't celebrate mine. I don't know what it's like to celebrate a birthday without him. Our friendship is so tight that we even have a matching tattoo: three swords, with the tip of each bearing the Latin initial of one of us, followed by the phrase 'All for one and one for all.' We got it about six or seven years ago."
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מיכל ואלכס לובנוב
מיכל ואלכס לובנוב
Alex Lobnov and his wife Michal
(Photo: Private album)
Alex's wife, Michal, is heavily pregnant. Just before he was kidnapped, Alex revealed to the group that they were expecting their second son.
"They've been together since Michal was 15," Zohar recounted. "That's not an age you think about marriage and kids. But when we returned from Thailand, he declared to us, 'She will be the mother of my children.'
“The moment he became a father, he transformed into a different person, organized and caring. He never left the house without a bottle, without a bag. He would wake up at 7 on Saturdays so Michal could rest and he could spend quality time with the boy. He was so excited to have another son."
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מיכל לובנוב
מיכל לובנוב
Michal Lobanov
(Photo: Tomer Shunem Halevi)
Now, Alex's friends find themselves stepping in to fill his shoes with small gestures, supporting Michal through the challenging and complex journey she has been on since October 7.
"We do everything to ensure she feels supported and calm - anything she needs, we're there for her. She's so strong, so extraordinary, I take my hat off to her every time I speak with her," Dima summed up.
Every moment of the day, Alex's absence is deeply felt by his friends, whether they want to call him for advice or during the rare sunny Saturdays when they reminisce about how he would announce, "It's a day for a jeep ride and a picnic, get the grill ready."
"I feel like something's missing inside me," Dima shared. "I don't know what he's thinking in such a situation because none of us have ever experienced anything like this. But I think he's strong, he’s strong mentally, I believe he's okay there and surviving."
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