First person: National pride at all-time high

For many in Israel, Maccabi’s sixth European championship title win stands for more than just a victory for the club team.

Maccabi Tel Aviv arrives in Israel (photo credit: ADI AVISHAI)
Maccabi Tel Aviv arrives in Israel
(photo credit: ADI AVISHAI)
Floods of yellow and blue streamed from Milan’s Mediolanum Forum arena, eventually making their way to the streets of Tel Aviv in an emphatic outpouring of support and pride for Maccabi Tel Aviv after the Israeli side’s unanticipated European title win.
For many in Israel, Maccabi’s sixth European championship triumph on Sunday stands for more than just a victory for the club team. The win provokes an element of national pride for scores of Israelis and Tel Avivians across the board; even for non-die-hard fans and those usually apathetic to basketball.
The win is viewed as an inspiring feat and an achievement that will hopefully prove to raise Israel's spot on the board of global athletics.
"This will bring more attention to Israeli sports on the international level and from Europe," said Eilat resident Ruth Landesman.
"I'm so proud, as an athlete myself I know how hard it is and how much effort they put into it," said Landesman, a soccer player. "It is inspiring even though they were the underdogs."
“It was amazing,” boasted Ahuva Tzafati, who had flown with her husband to Milan for the match. “Almost everything was yellow,” she said of the fans that had poured out of the Italian stadium into a nearby square.
Bar patrons and aficionados in Tel Aviv erupted into elated cheers as the final buzzer officially marked Maccabi’s triumph over Real Madrid in a seat-clenching match that extended into an adrenaline-infused overtime. Thousands rushed Rabin Square in front of the Tel Aviv Municipality, which was ceremoniously emblazoned with blue and yellow lights in tribute to Maccabi.
“It seemed like more than just a sports club winning, and more like a victory for the country by how everyone was celebrating - waving flags, splashing in the water, and the fireworks,” raved Tel Aviv resident Jeff Haritan, who participated in the merriment.
The celebratory honking of car horns rang into the early hours of the morning as Tel Aviv awoke to a persisting sentiment of revelry.
After a night of raucous festivities around Tel Aviv, hundreds of yellow-and-blue- adorned devotees flooded the arrival hall at Ben-Gurion Airport, eagerly awaiting the team’s return. Hundreds of frenzied Maccabi revelers transformed the airport’s bottom floor into what sounded like a basketball stadium with the hoards cheering and chanting team slogans.
“Maccabi is the champion!” they roared. “Everyone knows Europe is yellow,” young fans yelled.
Nearly an hour after they were expected, the Maccabi stars arrived through a side door, almost averting the anxious masses that had crept up to the barriers of the customs exit. A massive, roaring wave of people swarmed the players in an elated homecoming strewn with flashing cameras and good-spirited clamor.
“This means everything for us – pride, respect, everything,” jubilant Maccabi enthusiast Ben Cohen said of Sunday’s game.
Dressed head-to-toe in Maccabi paraphernalia, Cohen - who had arrived to Ben Gurion Ariport to fete the team - admitted that he couldn’t work for two days ahead of the game, taking the chance of losing what he said was NIS 3,000-4,000 in anticipation of his favorite team’s final match in the European league.
“Israeli pride for the whole country, united for one team” is what the win meant for Yuval Georgie of Hod Hasharon.
Despite their enduring bitterness for their derby rivals, even brooding Hapoel Tel Aviv fans could recognize the magnitude of Maccabi’s win.
“God loves Maccabi,” Tel Aviv taxi diver and Hapoel loyalist Ami said matter-of-factly. A self-described “hater” of Maccabi, Ami however acknowledged the European win as a venerable achievement for his foe.