How Maccabi Ra'Anana Used Basketball to Rally a Nation

At the Barclays Center last Thursday, as the Brooklyn Nets faced off against the Maccabi Ra'Anana basketball team in a preseason game, the scoreboard told one story

by Faruk Imamovic
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How Maccabi Ra'Anana Used Basketball to Rally a Nation
© Getty Images Sport/Mike Lawrie

At the Barclays Center last Thursday, as the Brooklyn Nets faced off against the Maccabi Ra'Anana basketball team in a preseason game, the scoreboard told one story. But for Maccabi's coach, Yehu Orland, there was a deeper narrative unfolding – one that spanned thousands of miles, reaching back to his homeland of Israel.

A Personal Loss Amid National Grief

Orland, while physically present at the game, grappled with a heart laden with grief. That very day, a dear friend, Lt. Col. Eli Ginsburg, was laid to rest, having died while serving in Israel's conflict with Hamas.

"I lost one of my best friends," Orland expressed somberly. "For me, it's a personal tragedy. But for our country, it's everybody's tragedy." The game against the Nets marked the start of Maccabi Ra'Anana's three-game U.S.

tour. Yet as Orland noted, the prevailing emotion in Israel was neither of sports nor of victories but of "depression and sadness." He voiced the weight of responsibility he felt: "There are children, there are babies, there are young people in Israel, and they need hope."

To Play or Not to Play?

The atmosphere was thick with tension and uncertainty when the team landed in the U.S.

Days after their arrival, Israel faced a severe attack from Hamas, resulting in significant casualties. The situation prompted a vital question: Should the Maccabi Ra'Anana team continue their U.S. tour in light of the unfolding crisis? The team's lead sponsor, Jeffrey Rosen, highlighted the group's unity amidst the turmoil.

While they lost a player who returned to Israel, the collective decision was to persevere. "I think everyone had personal challenges almost immediately," Rosen acknowledged. "But we reached a conclusion pretty quickly that we felt it was in the best interest to continue the trip." Nic Claxton of the Nets questioned the priorities, remarking, "there's bigger things going on in the world than basketball." However, for Maccabi Ra'Anana, the tour was more than about games.

It was a mission.

Hoops and Hope

To Orland, basketball was a platform, an opportunity to send a poignant message of resilience and hope in the face of immense tragedy. "In a world after you get hit like that by terrible things, your mood as a nation is going down, and we as adults need to create hope for the young people," he emphasized.

Indeed, while the score of a preseason basketball game might be forgotten, the spirit and message Yehu Orland carried with him on that court will linger. For him, every dribble, every shot, every cheer was a testament: "Israel is strong."

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