Remembering Hoch’le: Fallen Israeli war hero/hoops star

Promising basketball star falls in 1973 Kippur War.

April 22, 2015 01:47
3 minute read.
Yitzhak  Hochman

Yitzhak (Hoch ’le) Hochman (right, during the 1971 Universiade Games) had his life and sporting career cut short in the Yom Kippur War, dying in the city of Suez in Egypt one day before the start of the cease-fire in October 1973.. (photo credit: Courtesy)


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Yitzhak (Hoch’le) Hochman was not your typical basketball player.

Not by the standards of his time, and certainly not by the ones of this day and age.

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For one, the Israeli hoopster came from a national-religious background, being raised in Bnei Barak at a time when the city was still dotted with basketball courts.

His love for the game led him to join Elitzur Tel Aviv, which played on the outdoor court at Zeitlin School in the center of the city in the 1960’s.

Hochman spent his entire career with the team apart from one season when the second division club agreed to send him out on loan to Hapoel Holon of the top flight.

As part of the Elitzur sports movement, which was set up in 1939 by the religious Hapoel Mizrachi political party, Hochman’s team played on Saturday night’s after the conclusion of Shabbat and he became a hero to the religious youth.

The club was reluctant to let him go, but after failing to reach the first division time and again it decided to allow him to prove his worth among the very best of local hoops.

All the while, he worked as a physical education teacher, with very few basketball players at the time making a living from playing alone.

He was Holon’s third-highest scorer that season, averaging 11.2 points per game and helping the team end the 1970/71 campaign in sixth place.

His personal high was 26 points, which he scored in a 99-72 win over Hapoel Nir David/Beit Alfa in October 1970.

Almost three years later to the day, he was killed at the age of 30 in the city of Suez in Egypt during the Yom Kippur War.

Two days earlier on October 22, 1973, a United Nations-brokered ceasefire had unraveled. On October 25, the United States and the Soviet Union imposed cooperatively a cease-fire to end the war.

It came too late for Hochman, who was among more than 80 Israel Defense Forces soldiers killed in what became known as the Battle of Suez, which was the last major battle of the war.

Hoch’le was first enlisted in 1961, and despite his success on the court, he chose to become an intelligence officer. He served as a reserve in the Six Day War and after twice escaping death he married Rachel, with whom he would have two children.

In 1972, he returned to the IDF for a year while also studying at Bar Ilan University.

Hochman spent most of the Yom Kippur War fighting on the southern front, and he was killed after coming to the help of his friends who were stranded in the center of the city of Suez.

The day before he was killed Hochman wrote a letter to the principal and his colleagues at the school.

“The view from the western bank of the Suez Canal is fantastic,” it read. “Essentially, the war has been decided and the only question is what price the Egyptians will pay. From a personal standpoint we are feeling tired and slightly uncomfortable, but all in all there is a wonderful feeling of Netzakh Yisrael Lo Yishaker (The Eternity (God) of Israel will not lie).”

Elitzur went on to reach the top flight without its star and Hochman was posthumously awarded his first degree in sociology and criminology after completing his tests prior to the war.

However, he wasn’t around to see it happen, giving his life for his country in its continuous fight for survival.

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