A common destiny. Last Monday, at 3:00 A.M., members of Hapoel Jerusalem and Hapoel Holon were sitting at one table at Ben-Gurion Airport. Not far from them, Hapoel Tel Aviv's legal advisor settles together with the team's physiotherapist, and next to one of the nearby tables - the physiotherapist of Maccabi Tel Aviv with one of the club's management members. Holon players gathered in one of the cafes scattered around the terminal to get a bite to eat before the flight.
They all have one destination - Belgrade. The Serbian capital, which is currently home to Maccabi and Hapoel Tel Aviv, as well as Hapoel Jerusalem. Hapoel Holon used it as a stopover on the way to a game in Bosnia.
In normal times these teams are great rivals, but now these are not normal days. The people of Holon and Jerusalem exchange experiences about cheap and effective means of training far from home halls, the Maccabi and Jerusalem crew members talk about performing medical tests in Serbia on board, and finally the flight is delayed by a few minutes for the equipment Maccabi asked to transfer to Serbia. And no one complains.
Hapoel Holon in Bosnia, used in Belgrade as a transit station, photo: FIBA
Only lubrication can. Rada, the taxi driver who took me to Pioneer on Tuesday for Maccabi's game against Real Madrid, turned out to be a Red Star fan and an avid lover of Israel. "Say," he asked me, "did the famous president of Maccabi come here too?"
"You mean Shimon Mizrahi?" I answered with a question. "Yes, yes. Mizrahi, that's his name. Here in Serbia they say he has money to bring in any player he wants, even Steph Curry." I wanted to tell him that there are also those in Israel who think he's all-powerful, but I just smiled and kept silent.
Shimon Mizrahi. Belgrade is also appreciated, photo: Alan Schieber
Come on, come on. In the same game against Real Madrid, Maccabi Tel Aviv officials saw familiar faces: Yannis Spropoulos and his assistant Vassilis Yaragotelis. The two worked at Maccabi from 2018-2022, and are now at Red Star. They did not miss the opportunity to meet their acquaintances from the past, and the warm relationship seemed authentic.
The Greeks hugged and talked to the team, genuinely concerned about the situation in Israel, and then sat down in the stands to watch the game. Yaragotelis did not hide for a moment who he preferred her to win. "Come on, come on," he said after a basket by Tamir Blatt that narrowed the gap slightly to the Blancos, while Spropoulos reassured him that they now work for another team.
On Friday night, I was walking along the banks of the Sava River, and the two, who live in an upscale riverside neighborhood, had just returned from their team's victory over Anadolu Efes. Spropoulos got out of Yaragotelis' car all smiling, and continued to one of the nearby buildings with the permanent binder in his hands - just like in Tel Aviv.
Yannis Spropoulos and Deon Bodiguda in the Pioneer stands at Maccabi Tel Aviv's game, Photo: Getty Images
Cursing and loving. Almost all the taxi drivers in the city, and not only them, expressed support and love for Israel when they heard where I was coming from. It warmed my heart. But I didn't expect the next story. Sasha, one of the taxi drivers I traveled with, said that many years ago he spent a long time in Israel, at Kibbutz Hatzerim. "I realized that my kibbutz was also hit in the war," he said. "It was really nice on the kibbutz. Maybe after the war is over, I'll come back to visit you."
Halfway through, the driver of the car in front of him stopped for no apparent reason, and Sasha, as if to convince me that he was really in Israel, blurted out in plain Hebrew, "He's stupid!" I laughed out loud and thought to myself that he was definitely one of ours.
The picture of victory. For three consecutive days, the Pioneer Hall hosted games played by Israeli teams - on Tuesday Maccabi Tel Aviv, on Wednesday Hapoel Tel Aviv and on Thursday again Maccabi. Apart from the teams, a few diehard fans who joined and local Serbs, there were also families from the south as well as embassy staff in Belgrade, along with local Israelis and Jews.
And that's how we saw the same people cheering for Maccabi with yellow-and-blue scarves handed out to them, and the next day supporting the same devotion to Hapoel. On the one hand, it's a bit strange, and on the other hand, it's perfectly understandable these days. I wish that even after the war we would get similar images of sanity, and a little less unnecessary fervor.
Thank you to the players, coaches and management for a tough win against a great team.
Diego Julian, CEO of the Eurocup, was our guest tonight at the game. Met the fans from the envelope who came and was very excited.
We received permission from him for the next home game 20/12 to bring fans who are all evacuees.
After negotiating the quantity, I offered a symbolic number that was accepted -... pic.twitter.com/5pO1gITWPD
— ofer yannay (@YannayOfer) November 29, 2023
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