Maccabi Ra’Anana plays on across U.S. with hearts still in Israel



NEW YORK — On Thursday night, Yehu Orland stood on the sidelines at the Barclays Center, serving as coach of the Maccabi Ra’anana basketball team as it faced the Brooklyn Nets in a preseason game.

His heart, however, was thousands of miles away in his native Israel, where on Thursday one of his best friends, Lt. Colonel Eli Ginsburg, who died earlier this week in Israel’s war with Hamas.

“I lost one of my best friends,” Orland said before his team’s 135-103 loss to the Nets. “For me, it’s a personal tragedy. But, for our country, it’s everyone’s tragedy.”

For Orland and his team, Thursday marked the start of a three-game tour through the United States, which will continue with games against the Cleveland Cavaliers on Monday and the Minnesota Timberwolves on Tuesday.

“I think depression and sadness, that’s the feeling in Israel right now. But in Israel there are children, there are children, there are young people, and they need hope. So for me, I’m going to hold my head up, for those children, for those teenagers, Create hope for young people who need hope.”

Coach Yehu Orland, Ken Maccabi Ra’anana has decided to go on a US tour

When the group arrived in the United States last Wednesday, little could have imagined what would happen Saturday night when Hamas launched its terrorist attacks on Israel. More than a thousand Israelis have died, and dozens more have been held hostage by Hamas inside Gaza.

According to its chief sponsor, Jeffrey Rosen, the team met as a group in the wake of the attack and discussed whether the three-game tour should take place. But aside from one player who chose to return to Israel, the team otherwise agreed that the right thing to do was to continue with the game plan.

“I think the shock of the war affected everyone in unexpected ways,” Rosen said. “I think almost immediately everyone had personal challenges. And yet we discussed it as a team, as management and with the players and I think we came to a conclusion very quickly that we felt it was best to continue the trip.”

Even Net Center Nick Claxton I wondered if it was the right decision, saying at practice Wednesday that “there are bigger things going on in the world than basketball.”

But for the team, the games were about sending a message of hope in the wake of unspeakable tragedy back home.

“I think depression and depression, that’s the feeling in Israel right now,” Orland said. “But there are children in Israel, there are children, there are young people, and they need hope. So for me, I’m going to raise my head, to create hope for those children, for those teenagers, for those young people.

“Because after you’ve been so traumatized by what they’ve done to us in a world when they’ve done terrible, terrible things to us, you’re going to be in a bad mood as a nation, and we adults have to create hope for them. If we’re going to take our heads down, we Not going to help them. We’re not going to build hope. I’m sitting here trying not to cry, because my heart is broken. But we have to build for those young people, for those children, hope that “Israel is strong. That’s why I think everyone’s here.”

Israeli singer Noah Kirel — who hails from the city of Ra’anana, about a 20-minute drive north of Tel Aviv — sang the national anthem with the country’s flag draped over his shoulder, while Nets held a moment of silence in recognition of the lives lost in the conflict.

Jonathan More, Ra’anana’s starting power forward, said the game provided a momentary respite from a painful few days for him and his teammates.

“Around midnight we started getting these messages [about] Something was going down,” More said. “We picked up our phones and we didn’t know what was going on, so we started watching videos from Hamas.

“I’m not going to tell you the things I saw in the video… I didn’t eat for 30 hours after that. Didn’t sleep much for about 48 hours. So, it was tough trying to get it. Ready for this game. But we did our best. I did. Personally, professionally it was difficult for me to go into this game. I tried to … [but] My head was not 100% in the game.”

Moore, who came to the United States on a pre-season tour four years ago, said he couldn’t believe what he was seeing the first time he walked into an NBA arena. On Thursday, however, he said none of his Israeli teammates — all of whom were playing in an NBA building for the first time — had any reaction, as their minds were just focused on what was happening.

As the game progressed, though, More said he started to see some smiles on his teammates’ faces — moments he said he appreciated, because it allowed them to think about something other than the horrors of their homeland.

And, More said, those smiles came because of the crowd — which was filled with fans waving Israeli flags — and the atmosphere it provided, as well as playing on an NBA court for the first time.

“The Israeli flag, the atmosphere, them going on the court in an NBA court and actually playing, and not even thinking about what’s going down was enough to make them feel a little bit better,” More said. “Of course it’s not much. But for them to even have a little fun on this trip… it’s something.”

More says he’s been checking in with friends and family back home and so far everyone is fine.

For Orland, though, it was a day entirely spent thinking about losing his best friends. He said Ginsberg served in the Army for 23 years before retiring a month ago — only to reenlist when the war broke out this past weekend.

“When you lose a friend, you keep asking yourself why,” Orland said. “I guess the answer I gave myself was what he chose to do. He chose to be a soldier. He chose to defend Israel. He chose it all these years, and even though he ended up serving in the army, the war He packed his bag as he started.

“[Thursday] The funeral took place a few hours ago. His wife spoke about him and said that as soon as they declared war, he packed his things and went to help the soldiers.

“I’m very sad. But I’m proud of him. He’s a hero to me.”

Before the game, Orland said he expected to cry when Israel’s national anthem was played. Later, he admitted that he did and explained that the reason it was so emotional was because as the coach of Israel’s under-16 national team, he asked Ginsberg to talk to his players about what true grit looks like.

“[I wanted] To give them an idea of ​​what their toughness is,” Orland said. “Because young players think it’s tough for them when they lose, or a coach yells at them, or they get hurt. And he came and said, ‘Friends, nothing compares to this [pressure being in the] Army, compared [difficulty being in the] Army every time [during] The national anthem during the European Championships, I used to think about his words, and now it has another meaning.

“So for me, it was an emotional moment. Yeah, I cried a little bit. But that’s okay with me. I’ll be okay. It’s okay to cry. And a broken heart, that’s okay too.”

“But you’re going with your head up and if you move forward, you’re one step ahead [toward] I hope.”



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