Israeli high school basketball team ripped apart by Hamas’ terror attack reunite for nail-biting game in NYC

A group of young Israeli basketball players – whose hometowns were ravaged by the Oct. 7 Hamas attack – were reunited for the first time to play basketball against local teams in New York.

A group of 19 former members of high school team HaPoel Eshkol were brought back together again in the Empire State last week after they were forced apart in the fallout of the unthinkable terror attack on their hometowns, according to non-profit Project 24, which organized the trip.

“Each and every one of us evacuated from different places,” Eshkol team captain Guy Moses Auerbach, 19, said to dozens of spectators before a game kicked off Thursday between his team and the Ramaz School, a Jewish high school on the Upper East Side.

The players from the Eshkol region of Israel came to New York to play with their former teammates again after they were split in the wake of the Oct. 7 Hamas attack. Michael Nagle

“All the team split up. We haven’t played at all this season.”

The nail-biter game ended in a 45-to-45 tie as students and others looked on from the packed bleachers.

The players, from the region of Eshkol, were from some of the hardest-hit kibbutzim, or small agricultural-based communities, including Be-eri and Nir Oz, in the wake of the terror group’s massacre of 1,200 people and capture of 250 more last year.

The young men lost family members and a coach in the brutal attack and many of their homes were destroyed. The terror group also took some of their relatives hostage.

A group of 19 former teammates were brought to the Empire State to play games and scrimmages with local school teams. Michael Nagle

Most of the players now live in temporary housing and hotels throughout the country, Project 24 said.

One player, Noam Or, was even held hostage for 50 days only to learn his mother had been murdered upon his release.

Or recently found out that his father, who was also taken hostage, was killed — which made the trip all the more meaningful to him, Project 24 said.

Moses Auerbach’s grandfather Gadi Moses is still in captivity, the teen told The Post, noting his grandmother was killed and his grandfather’s second wife was was captured and later released.

The players had family members killed, their homes destroyed and relatives taken hostage in the massacre. Michael Nagle

“We are all from the same regional council,” Auerbach explained of his former team. “We all know people and lost people.”

Moses Auerbach said he and his family always try to remain positive, “but it’s really tough.”

“Basketball has been my way of life,” the center power forward player explained. “It’s where I go when I want to be disconnected from the world and hang with friends and stuff like that.”

Many of the basketball players are now living in temporary housing or hotels throughout the country of Israel. Michael Nagle

“It’s really fun to just get the whole team together and play basketball once again.”

Project 24 sponsored the team’s ten-day trip which began in Port Washington on May 15 and ended in Manhattan on May 24.

Over the course of the trip, they played seven games and scrimmages against local public schools, Jewish schools and in Jewish Community Centers.

The group of players, and four coaches, also got to see the Knicks playoff game, a Yankees game, a WNBA game between the New York Liberty and Chicago Sky, and saw “Lion King” on Broadway, the non-profit said.

One of the teammates Nahar Lev-Aptalon said his parents’ home was burned down and he had to shelter in a safety room for the whole day on Oct. 7. Michael Nagle

Twenty-year-old Nahar Lev-Aptalon — who scored over a dozen points on Thursday’s game and who now plays professionally in Israel — said his parents’ home was burned down by Hamas while they were inside.

They miraculously survived.

“I woke up at 7:30 just because my father called me.” Lev-Aptalon said of Oct. 7. “I didn’t wake up from the bombs because I sleep really deep, and he just told me there are terrorists all over the kibbutz, close the safe room and stay calm.”

He recalled hiding inside the safe room alone until the IDF came for him around 9 p.m. that night.

The team was brought to New York by Project 24, a non-profit. Michael Nagle

“That was really the hard part,” he said.

The 20-year-old said basketball has helped him heal.

“[In] Basketball you have to really focus on the game,” he said. “You can’t think too much about other stuff while you are playing so I feel like this is a good thing to do to get your mind off stuff. You naturally feel better after playing,” Lev-Aptalon said.

Another player, Roy Beinart, said he has remained in his settlement of Sde Nitzan — but his family has refused to return.

The team played seven games and scrimmages during their 10 days in New York. Michael Nagle

“Right now I’m a 16-year-old who lives alone at home, two hours away from my family,” Beinart told The Post.

He said the separation from his teammates had been hard for him but continuing to play basketball helps him cope with his troubles.

“When you deal with the fact that you’re not going to see a lot of people again, or even that you won’t see them for a while, it’s tough to wrap your head around it,” Beinart said.

“For me, it’s much easier with a ball,” he said. “Just getting some exercise gets you going.”

Project 24 founder Daniel Gradus said his organization is trying to help foster optimism in the young men.

The players said that basketball can help take their minds off of their troubles. Michael Nagle

“They need something else, they need healing, they need hugging,” Gradus said.

“For kids like this, to use all their energy and aggression and to take it out on the court with friends is the best thing for them to do,” he said. “When they play basketball it clears their minds.”

Last year’s invasion of the Jewish nation launched a war that will enter its eighth month next week.

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