How Yom HaShoah Holocaust Remembrance Day influences Israeli basketball

Apr 17, 2023 | Holyland Hoops

In Israel, we are entering one of the heaviest periods of the year, during which we commemorate the Holocaust on Yom HaShoah (Holocaust Remembrance Day), a week later we remember Israel’s fallen soldiers and victims to terror attacks on Yom HaZikaron (Memorial Day) and then the very next day celebrate Modern Israel’s independence on Yom Ha’atzmaut (Independence Day).

Yom HaShoah (formally known as Yom HaZikaron laShoah ve-laG’vurah, which translates to Memorial Day for the holocaust and Heroism), begins at sunset tonight. In 1951, the Knesset established the 27th day of the Hebrew month of Nissan as Yom HaShoah, and while the day commemorates the horrifying events which transpired in the 1930s and 1940s, we don’t need to look far to find the pure hatred that sparked the horrors of the Holocaust – only last week, the rise of antisemitism was on show in Europe as Hapoel Jerusalem basketball fans were violently attacked in Greece, where they had travelled to support their team in its quarter final matchup against AEK Athens.

The slogans “Never Again” and “Never Forget” are commonly associated with Holocaust remembrance and Holyland Hoops serves to ensure that we will never forget the atrocities that occurred.

Of course, it is well-known that the origins of Maccabi Tel Aviv’s infamous yellow uniform is intrinsically connected to the Holocaust: in 1942, Maccabi football (soccer) player, the late Yosef Merimovich, suggested that Maccabi’s players take the field in yellow and blue jerseys (instead of blue and white, in which Maccabi had played up until then), to show solidarity with their Jewish brothers and sisters in Europe who were forced by the Nazis to wear the yellow Star of David. This was the moment that started the legacy of HaTzahovim, the “Yellows”, the color with which Maccabi Tel Aviv players and fans – both in football and in basketball – identify on a daily basis.

This is not the only manner in which Maccabi marks the Holocaust; it is also a part of the One Team-One People Initiative, the partnership with the Center for Jewish Impact and the department for Israel and Holocaust Commemoration at the World Zionist Organization. Earlier this year, to mark International Holocaust Remembrance Day – January 27, the date established by the UN in 2004 to remember the Holocaust and which was commemorated for the first time in 2005 – the Initiative held a series of Holocaust remembrance events with local communities in Barcelona, where Maccabi played its round 22 EuroLeague match in late January.

It is not uncommon for Israeli teams playing in European competitions to make time during their busy schedules to mark the Holocaust. Only last month, in the leadup to their European North Basketball League quarter final against MKS Start Lublin game in Poland, Nes Ziona visited the Majdanek Concentration Camp. Such events are not only significant for the Israeli players, but also for foreign players. “From learning about it in high school to seeing it in person,” import guard, Shaq Buchanan posted on social media. “It was a great experience. Appreciate the guys for letting me be a part of it.”

The Israeli National Team also visited Majdanek last year when they played Poland in a World Cup qualifier in Lublin. “For an hour and a half the National Team visited all the important sites at the camp,” the Israeli Basketball Association’s official account Tweeted. “The gas chambers, the housing quarters, the crematorium and the mountain of ash, at the foot of which [Israeli captain] Tomer Ginat recited Abba Kovner’s “Nizkor” [the poem, “Let Us Remember”] and posed for a photo with the Israeli flag.

The Holocaust is not only marked by Israeli teams, but also by Jewish and Israeli professional players overseas, as well as amateur teams visiting Israel.

Deni Avdija, Israel’s NBA star, never shies away from celebrating his heritage. When his Washington Wizards played against the Orlando Magic on Yom HaShoah in 2021, Avdija marked the occasion with the word “Yizkor” (“Remembrance”) written on his shoes in Hebrew.

While both playing in the French basketball league in 2021, Ginat’s Boulogne-Levallois Metropolitans 92 played against Rafi Menco’s Élan Chalon on Yom HaShoah Eve. The players marked the occasion by wearing black tape on their jerseys.

When the Auburn Tigers college team toured Israel for its pre-season last summer, an important part of their visit to the Holyland was a tour of Yad Vashem, the World Holocaust Remembrance Center in Jerusalem. “The pictures on the walls of this museum are the pictures of my family, the children remembered here are our children,” wrote Auburn’s Jewish coach, Bruce Pearl, in the Yad Vashem Guest Book at the end of his visit. “We pledge that when we go back home, we will continue to tell their stories.”

Israeli basketball provides a constant reminder to the world that we, the Jewish people, are still here and we are strong, despite the events of the Holocaust: on Wednesday night Hapoel Tel Aviv players Joventut Badalona in the quarter final of the EuroCup and Hapoel Jerusalem hosts AEK Athens for the deciding game of the quarterfinal of FIBA’s Basketball Champions League; then next week, Maccabi begins its 5-game EuroLeague quarterfinal series against AS Monaco. While basketball is an avenue for showcasing athletic strength and abilities, it is no less significant that Holyland Hoops continue to commemorate, together with the rest of the Jewish people, the atrocities which we suffered during the Holocaust.

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