Hapoel Jerusalem held a special evening for the families of the hostages at the Arena which included a ceremony for those who have been killed and those who are being held by Hamas in Gaza as well as a screening of the club’s Basketball Champions League game at PAOK in Greece. Over 6,000 posters of those being held hostage were placed on every single seat in the lower bowl of the facility as the largest gathering for a sporting event since the beginning of the war featured in the nation’s capital.
There have been many Reds fans that have lost their lives either in the initial attack by Hamas on October 7th or since then during the IDF operation in Gaza as well as on the northern border. In addition, two Jerusalem supporters, Ofir Engel and Hersh Goldberg-Polin are being held hostage by Hamas and their well being is unknown.
Mayor Moshe Leon took part in the ceremony along with the father of Ofir Engel who was taken hostage while visiting his girlfriend at Kibbutz Be’eri as well as the team’s CEO Alon Kremer.
“We didn’t think that we would be opening the basketball season like this,” Mayor Leon began. “So many Hapoel Jerusalem fans have been killed as well as having been taken hostage. Every seat in the Arena has a picture of one of the hostages affixed to them. Perhaps when we will wake up one morning we will hear about hostages being freed and we would also wake up from this nightmare. However, we haven’t had such news yet. We will be waiting for every single hostage to return but this may take some time.”
Alon Kremer, the Reds Chief Executive Officer, wore a special shirt that had pictures of all of the Hapoel Jerusalem fans who have been killed so far in the war while the back featured the two who are being held hostage on the back.
“I stand here with a heavy heart,” Kremer began. “I was hoping we would be well into the basketball season but instead we are having to deal with this brutal tragedy with over 1200 killed and over 200 being held hostage. Both Hersh Goldberg-Polin who has travelled far and wide with the team including to Valencia is always with us while Ofir Engel has attended so many games with the team most recently in Athens and the State Cup. We are supporting the families as they go through this ordeal and their loved ones are being held hostage by Hamas.”
Finally, Yoav Engel the father of Ofir and a resident of Kibbutz Ramat Rachel gave a heart felt talk about his son that has been held by Hamas for over 40 days.
“Ofir, who is in 12th grade went to visit his girlfriend Yuval at Kibbutz Be’eri and was kidnapped with her and her father and taken by Hamas into Gaza. We don’t know if he has been sleeping, we don’t know if he has been eating and we don’t know what condition he is in. We hope that he will return to us as soon as possible.”
“We have been involved with Hapoel Jerusalem for many years, whether it’s tournaments at the kibbutz or at my work at the sports center at Shalva. But it’s so sad that we are entering the arena for a game on the big screen and instead of fans being here there are pictures of those kidnapped on the seats and that Jerusalem is not playing here but abroad.”
Engel stressed the need for everyone to do the utmost that they can in order to help free the hostages, “We need everyone to be with us, the families of those who are being held hostage. We were in the Knesset a few days ago and what we understood from those meetings is that we need to do more than what we have been doing so far for the past 40 days since the war has started. We need to do everything in our power and your help to bring them home now!”
Hatikva for the hostages 🇮🇱🇮🇱🇮🇱🇮🇱 pic.twitter.com/ubi4NiNl99
— Sports Rabbi (@thesportsrabbi) November 15, 2023
Following the ceremony a stirring rendition of Hatikva was sung by all those in attendance as tears streamed down the faces of the friends and families of the hostages.
As for the game itself, Jerusalem came up just short as they fell to PAOK 79-77 in a tight game that went right down to the wire. The Greeks took control early but the Reds came roaring back to take a 19-17 lead after the first quarter thanks to stellar play by Chris Johnson, however, the hosts put the pedal to the metal in the second period to head into halftime in front 39-35.
Levi Randolph and Speedy Smith tried to get Aleksandar Dzikic’s team back into the game, but PAOK had other ideas as Kendall Smith, Michael Gilmore and former Maccabi Ramat Gan center Justin Alston all found the basket to wrap up the victory.
Randolph led all scorers with 19 points, Chris Johnson added 12 points and Brynton Lemar chipped in with 10 points in the loss. Kendall Smith paced the hosts with 16 points while former Maccabi Ramat Gan center Justin Alston scored 11 points in the win.
“PAOK is a good team and they have the same amount of wins as us,” Head Coach Aleksandar Dzikic said. “They played with good energy, opened up the game the right way and ended it the right way as well and their new guys played well. We have some problems off of the court but PAOK played well and took the win.”
Levi Randolph reflected on the game that was, “It was a tough game for us and a tough period that we’ve been through a lot this season and we played a tough game. It came down to the defensive end and we had a lot of breakdowns today, things that we normally take care of and ultimately it lost us the game. We will learn from it and when we come together for practice we can take care of those things.”