NORTH MIAMI BEACH, FLA. (WSVN) - A youth basketball team from Israel is getting a brief break from the turmoil at home, as they played with purpose on a week-long trip to South Florida.
The 26-member Israeli youth basketball team arrived in Miami from Israel on Tuesday. Two days later, they battled it out on the basketball court, in a change from the sounds they usually hear since the Oct. 7 attacks.
“These are kids that were directly affected. Some of their family members were killed, family members that have been taken captive,” said event organizer Gabe Seghi.
The nonprofit group Project Twenty Four set up the trip for the basketball team in Miami as a way to get a taste of normalcy.
During the trip, they’ll play games at the Jewish community center, watch a Miami Heat game, and get to meet several Heat players.
“These projects are about connecting Jews in the diaspora with problems in Israel and putting them together so they can work together,” said Project Twenty Four’s Daniel Gradus.
Following the aftermath of the Oct. 7 attacks, Risa Chopp helped create this event to unify the kids in this very difficult moment in their lives.
“We thought about creating a multi-school tournament so that it’s less about competition, more about Jewish unity,” said Chopp.
The unity will stretch far, as nearly all of the boys on the basketball club, Hof Ashkelon, are from a kibbutz in southern Israel, the forefront of the war. Due to the war, nearly all of them were displaced from their homes.
One of those displacements occurred to cousins Omer Yahav and Uria Vax, who said playing on the basketball court is a welcome distraction.
“It’s a lot easier, like just relaxing a bit, like no break from everything. Just like just being able to be with your friends,” said Yahav.
The team played against other Jewish day schools, meeting for the second time since the bombs and bullets tore their world apart.
It was a sight that brought a smile to their coach, Sagee Katav, who is also affected by the ongoing war.
“We get some amazing feeling, just to get out of Israel and come here to play, forget a little bit about what’s happening back home,” said Katav.
Chopp said her family is one of many helping to host the boys, and she’s already seeing the bonds being created to last a lifetime.
“The kids are amazing, they become really close friends with my sons. I have sons the exact same age, so that’s the most meaningful part for me,” she said.
It’s the kind of love that cannot be captured on the scoreboard.
“It is a testament to our people, how much we love each other,” said a rabbi.
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