For almost two weeks in a row, Hapoel Tel Aviv has been in Belgrade, and the players and professional staff are already eager to return to Israel. This evening the Reds will meet Besiktas in the Eurocup, and over the weekend they are due to return to Israel for the revival of the league.
"It's a strange situation to be away from family," says Captain Bar Timur in a special interview in the lobby of the hotel where he and his friends have been staying lately, "but at times like this you don't want to say how hard and bad it is for you, when we see what happens to people at war. We're far from everything that's happening and it's complicated. Hapoel let us bring the families here and some did, but not everyone could come, and people far from their families – which is hard. That's our life right now."
Bar Timor. "There are a lot of difficult moments," Photo: Reuters
To what extent can you really defuse the situation and concentrate on basketball?
"In training and games it happens automatically. During this time, we manage to disconnect a little. The rest of the time we don't want to disconnect, but to stay connected and know what's going on. We all experience and worry, each in his own way. There are, of course, moments when you're looking for your peace."
In the past month and a half you have been to some slightly hostile destinations, such as Paris and London. Were there times when you were a little apprehensive?
"There was no fear of anything dangerous, but we did downplay ourselves and didn't leave the hotel. We usually arrive a day or two before the game, and this time we were there for a week and we were always in the hotel or in the hall, and when we did go out we were careful in accordance with the instructions of the security forces, not in groups and without speaking Hebrew out loud."
We have seen lately that some of the foreign players in Israeli teams have been confused by the situation. I'm sure you've gotten to talk to your strangers. How do they react?
"They ask a lot of questions and try to understand what's going on. It fell on them unexpectedly. We shared the information and didn't hide anything from them. They support us as friends and also support the country, and this situation is difficult for them too. At first they were a little scared, but as time goes on they understand the situation more and calm down."
Jacoben Brown. "No one is forced to return", photo: Alan Shaver
Many Hapoel Tel Aviv fans were killed and injured in the events of October 7 as well as in the war in Gaza in recent weeks. Timur and his friends spoke to the families, visited the wounded, attended funerals and sent videos of encouragement to the children and soldiers.
"There are a lot of difficult moments," the captain says sadly. "We visited the wounded and were at funerals. We talk to fans and send videos, and do everything we can to help with our little plot. What caught me was some relatives of people who were killed and told me, 'He loved you very much.' It pinches the heart. Even in recent days, a soldier, a supporter of the worker, was killed in Gaza and they asked me to be in touch with the family. It's very hard to see families broken up, but we understand how much power the club gives them, maybe a little bit helps to overcome."
Graffiti in memory of Omar Hermesh, a Reds fan who was murdered in the village of Gaza, photo: from Instagram
Hapoel has built a strong team this year that, according to all estimates, can go very far in all the factories. Are you afraid that if the war lasts a long time, the group will be hurt by it and will not be able to meet its goals and missions?
"I really hope it doesn't hurt us. In the meantime, we are up to the task, at least in terms of results. Obviously, the crowd and the home field are missing us not only for success but for our soul. One of the main reasons we play basketball is for the audience, and this situation, where every game is an away game, can hurt teams from Israel. We are doing everything so that the situation will hurt us as little as possible."
What do you think about the return of the league?
"I can understand the desire to play and get back to a certain routine. It will be difficult and challenging, certainly at first. For us, it gives hope for a return to sanity and a return to Israel. We've been abroad for a long time and it's hard. We want to be a little more in Israel, both from a family perspective and because of the ability to contribute to the community in whatever way we can."
Do foreigners want to come back?
"We talk to them and try to explain, but of course we don't coerce anyone. We tell them that it is safe in Israel and that we are not afraid, and hope that they will return."
How much do you miss the fans and want to return to play at the Shlomo Group Arena?
"I can't explain how many. Many of our games here abroad have had fans, and we have no words to describe how much it helped us. We miss it very much and want to play in front of a hall full of our fans. We're waiting for it to happen as soon as possible."
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Fans of Hapoel Tel Aviv. They are missing, photo: Alan Shaver
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