National basketball team raises spirits in Nitzanim camp

Several children's dreams came true when the national basketball team visited the camp for families displaced by northern fighting.

Eliyahu  kids 298.88 (photo credit: Joseph D. Robbins)
Eliyahu kids 298.88
(photo credit: Joseph D. Robbins)
Hundreds of children saw their dreams come true Thursday when the national men's basketball team visited the Arkady Gaydamak-funded camp for families displaced by the fighting in the North. The camp, located at Nitzanim 20 minutes north of Ashkelon, is currently home to 2,000 people who opted to leave their homes, which have become vulnerable to the Hizbullah's rocket attacks. The site opened Monday and "will remain open for as long as it takes for things to get back to normal," said staff member Hagai Zrahia. It features large living tents, dozens of ping pong tables and other games, and an amusement-park feel. On Thursday morning, after they completed their first of two daily workouts, the camp also featured Israel's finest basketball players, including the 44th overall selection in this year's NBA Draft, Lior Eliyahu. Eliyahu, who is playing with the men's national team for the first time, said that he was "honored to be able to compete with Israel's best," and that he hoped he "will help as much as possible." In terms of coming to see the children, Eliyahu said that Gaydamak is doing a great thing, and he wished that the situation would end soon. "The national team feels very good to be involved in the situation and to be able to help the kids. In Tel Aviv, we are disconnected from the situation, so it is nice to do whatever we can to improve it," Eliyahu told The Jerusalem Post while inking his name on numerous hats and t-shirts. Tzvika Sherf, head coach of the national team agreed with Eliyahu during his discussion with The Jerusalem Post, and said that the team came to the camp to support those who had fled the Hizbullah's bombs, "Gaydamak made a great thing here for the people." "We got a lot of love last year during the European Championships and now we are giving it back," Sherf added. "Look how happy the faces of the kids are." While the basketball stars made the children's dreams a reality, it was Arkady Gaydamak himself who once again stole the show. Arriving amidst chants of "Ar-ka-dy, Ar-ka-dy, Ar-ka-dy," and "Gay-da-mak, Gay-da-mak," the billionaire turned philanthropist-extraordinaire received hugs from throngs of parents and children alike, as he signed autographs for the crowd. The praise was well deserved, as Gaydamak has shown the children that regardless of what is happening up North, they are still kids on summer vacation. Then again, a few basketball stars never hurt anyone either.