NEW YORK (AP) — Yehu Orland wore a shirt honoring a close friend who was killed two days earlier defending Israel, and cried a little Thursday night when his country’s national anthem was played before a game in Brooklyn.
But Maccabi Ra’anana coach believes continuing his team’s tour against NBA clubs while his country is at war was the right decision.
“We are the first team to play since the beginning of the war and no one will break Israel, because we are a strong nation,” Orland said before the match.
The Israeli National League team was playing the first of three matches on its tour. There was a police presence outside the Barclays Center, with barricades set up in the plaza outside the entrance.
The Nets won 135-103. Ra’anana players lingered to wave and pose for photos with their supporters after a match that striker Jonathan Mor said was the first time he had seen some teammates smile in days.
“Obviously the last five days have been some of the toughest days you can face,” the 28-year-old said.
Some fans waved the Israeli flag and others held signs reading “New York stands with Israel,” while Noa Kirel, an Israeli singer and actress, performed the country’s national anthem. Before that, the Nets requested a moment of silence for those affected, saying the organization condemned the attacks and deplored the loss of life.
Ra’anana arrived in the United States in the middle of last week, just days before Hamas militants killed more than 1,300 people, including 247 soldiers, in an attack on Israel on Saturday. Subsequent Israeli bombings killed more than 1,530 people in Gaza, according to authorities on both sides.
Among the dead was Eli Ginsberg, a close friend of Orland’s who completed his military service after 23 years last month. Their families were planning a vacation together, Orland said, before Ginsberg rushed to help soldiers defend Israel.
Orland said the funeral was held earlier Thursday and he wore a shirt that said “RIP Eli.” Forever in my heart.”
“I guess when you lose a friend, you keep wondering why it happened,” Orland said. “So I guess the answer I gave myself: that’s what he chose to do. He chose to be a soldier, he chose to protect Israel. He chose this for so many years.
Mor said he was having dinner with two teammates when they started hearing about the attacks. Soon after, they found a video showing the horror.
He said the players were able to check in with their families back home and so far they have all remained safe.
“My two brothers are there. Some of my best friends are fighting,” Mor said. “We checked in, so far so good, at least for me and the guys here. But this is our people and the things that come out of them are things that no human being is supposed to look at. »
Six players on the roster are from Israel. Orland and team sponsor Jeffrey Rosen said a player chose to return home, although they did not say why. Ra’anana will continue to face the Cleveland Cavaliers and Minnesota Timberwolves in the second straight year the team travels to the United States for exhibition games.
“I think depression and sadness is the feeling in Israel right now,” Orland said, adding that he hoped his team could bring some happiness to the people of his country.
“So I’m sitting here, trying not to cry, because my heart is broken,” he added, “but we have to create for these young people, these children, hope that Israel is strong , and that’s why I think everyone is here.”
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