Two Israeli Manhattan College hoops players spreading peace

Raziel Hayun and Nitzan Amar standing up for Israel


Over two months since Hamas terrorists launched an attack on Israel, the scars are very much present for two Manhattan College basketball players who are experiencing the secondhand effects of war while living away from their homeland. Playing back certain parts of Oct. 7, such as the horror stories relayed back to them from family and friends who lived it, is hard enough. Even now, the stories that are spread through social media and text messages are seemingly impossible to escape.

“For Israel, it’s Sept. 11,” said Raziel Hayun, a sophomore forward on the Manhattan Jaspers men’s basketball team. “We will never forget Oct. 7.”

Hayun is from Eilat, a southern port city situated on the coast of the Red Sea and boasts distant views of four countries — Israel, Egypt, Jordan, and Saudi Arabia. Eilat is approximately 137 miles from the Gaza strip, where Hamas invaded Israel to carry out the attacks that killed more than 1,000 people and took hundreds more as hostages.

In early November, the city was hit hard by a drone strike that targeted Tze’elim Elementary School. Hayun’s two younger cousins currently attend the school, but were unschathed. No deaths were reported.

“They have been in the rocket shelter a lot,” Hayun said about his family. “Thankfully nobody got hurt and everyone is OK.”

Hayun visited home over the summer before returning to Riverdale for his sophomore season at Manhattan. According to Hayun, he never expected the current situation to arise when left to return to New York.

“Nobody ever thought something like Oct. 7 could happen,” Hayun said. “We have one of the strongest armies (IDF) in the world.”

In Israel, mandatory service is required of every citizen over the age of 18. Hayun completed his service, and then made the decision to play college basketball after hearing about it from Eyal Nankin, a fellow countryman and current member of the New Jersey Institute of Technology men’s basketball team, who is a close friend of Hayun. He had his doubts at first, Hayun says, but is happy that he too made the leap to NCAA Division I basketball.

“I loved the army,” Hayun said. “I became more mature and more grateful for things in my life.”

Nitzan Amar had a different path to Manhattan College. She played two years for the University of North Carolina Greensboro women’s basketball team before transferring to play for the Jaspers.

After making the adjustment to a new school and team, Amar has had to worry about the war back home, specifically in Yi’ron, a kibbutz in northern Israel that is located adjacent to the border with Lebanon.

Oct. 7 has its own meaning for Amar, whose sister and brother both currently serve in the army. She remembers hearing about the news of the attacks at night, which was the morning hours back in Israel, and contacted her mother who was asleep at the time.

“Hour after hour we realized how big it was and how serious the whole situation was,” Amar said. “So many innocent people got killed and kidnapped. I will always remember that day.”

Given the close proximity to the Lebanon border, the residents of Yi’ron had to relocate to a hotel outside of the kibbutz and take shelter there. Amar’s mother lives at the hotel these days while her father remains at home to keep watch over their property.

“They are doing good under the circumstances,” Amar said.

Solidarity matters

Hayun has been in close contact with the seven other Israeli-born NCAA Division I men’s basketball players. They set up a group chat to check in on each other and learn more about what their campuses are doing to keep them and other Israeli-Jewish students safe.

At Manhattan, Hayun says the support from his teammates and coaches has been there since day one. There have been instances of anti-Israel posters on campus, Hayun says, but they are removed once someone reports it.

“We will do everything to protect the country and represent the country,” Hayun said about his Israeli identity. “If we do not, nobody will do that for us.”

Hayun admits he was close to leaving Manhattan after the Oct. 7th massacre, but decided to stay after receiving his parents’ blessing.

“My parents told me that I have a great opportunity to share the story and influence the people around me,” Hayun said, while mentioning he has shown his support on social media. “I’m trying to express what is going on in Israel in the best way.”

Amar says she has “good and bad days” while trying to focus on her responsibilities as a student-athlete. The support from her coaches and teammates has helped her push forward on the bad days.

“They know it’s a difficult situation for me but they make sure I never feel alone,” Amar said.

The reflections on Oct. 7 will likely continue as the war rages on back home. Hayun acknowledged how it’s the worst thing to happen to the Jewish people since the Holocaust. The reasons for protecting Israel are too important for both Hayun and Amar to ignore.

“Israel is a huge family,” Amar said. “It’s the only country for Jewish people in the world, so we always need to protect ourselves to live in peace.”

Israel, Hamas, war, Gaza, Manhattan College, basketball, Raziel Hayun, Nitzan Amar