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EURO 2024 QUALIFIERS

Terror-affected families find peace in football

Yigal Nisell. Photo: Attila Szucs
Yigal Nisell. Photo: Attila Szucs

A CHAT between former JNF NSW shaliach Yigal Nisell and his nine-year-old son Gavriel sparked a bold idea to offer a free five-day trip to Hungary to families evacuated from the Gaza border area of Israel, so they could watch Israel’s rescheduled Euro men’s football qualifying matches versus Switzerland and Romania.

Gavriel wanted to go to those games, and when his dad asked how it would be fair when many Israeli families had lost so much after the October 7 Hamas terror attacks, his answer was “to bring them with us!”

Nisell – chief operating officer of the Combat Antisemitism Movement – sprung into action, looking at ways to make such a trip possible.

Israeli children enjoy watching Israel play at Pancho Stadium in Hungary on November 15. Photo: Attila Szucs

In the end, 130 people from the Gaza envelope communities – including 84 children – were able to go from November 15-19, thanks to flights provided by Israir, accommodation covered by Fattal Hotels, and travel insurance provided by PassportCard.

The Jewish Agency assisted by connecting the group with Budapest’s Jewish community, and Nisell said he also “found other small partners – including private donors from Australia”.

Describing the trip as “unbelievable”, Nisell – who lived in Sydney from 2016 to 2022 – told The AJN the aim was “to give the people a bit of a break from the horrors they had experienced”.

“The sense of their appreciation was just overwhelming,” he said.

 

“One woman told me today that she had come from Kibbutz Be’eri – a place where so many people were murdered – and she said the only time she could sleep properly was in the last four days.

“We had kids whose parent, or parents, were murdered, or had other relatives murdered like uncles, and kids who had a grandparent kidnapped.

“It brought all of them joy to be able to watch their national soccer team play.

“Although we didn’t win, the atmosphere of singing Hatikvah with everybody together in the stadium, and just to give them a few seconds, minutes, hours and days, of not having to think about their homes, was worth everything.”

Israel had to play four “home” games in Hungary within nine days, including their 1-1 draw with group I leaders Switzerland on November 15, and their 1-2 loss to second-placed Romania on November 18, both played at Pancho Arena in Felcsut, near Budapest, in front of a small, but vocal crowd of mainly Israel supporters.

Many fans raised Israeli flags, #BringThemHomeNow banners, and posters showing the names and photos of hostages.

The football results mean Israel can’t directly qualify for Euro 2024, but they still have a faint hope, via a knockout play-off series in March.

Meanwhile, in Lodz on November 17, players from Israel and Poland’s men’s U21 teams held an unauthorised minute’s silence for the victims of the October 7 Hamas massacres, immediately following kick-off, after UEFA had refused their earlier request for it to be part of the pre-game ceremony.

 

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