If you have turned on the news lately, you would be hard pressed to not know at least a little bit about what is going on in Israel right now. Missiles have been fired from the Gaza Strip into Israel over the past few weeks by terrorist organizations, and the Israeli military has responded with airstrikes designed to take out the stockpiled weapons and missile launching areas.
While all this has been going on, Israeli society moves forward, as many in Israel have become accustomed to events like this occurring and have learned how to deal with trying circumstances. However, for American-born basketball players playing in the Holy Land, this is a new experience for them and being under the threat of missile fire has taken a toll on many of them, including former Iowa State and Michigan State player Chris Allen who just left Israel for the United States because his family feared for his safety.
I caught up with a few former college stars about their experience in Israel and how they are dealing with the stress involved with being there now, and had some truly fascinating conversations. First up is Kenny Gabriel (a teammate of Allen’s), the former Auburn star who averaged 12.2 points and 7.3 rebounds at the school last season, and is now playing with Maccabi Ashdod, based in the city of Ashdod, a coastal city under direct fire from the Gaza Strip.
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Dime: What countries did you have offers to play in besides Israel this past year?
Kenny Gabriel: Israel was the only overseas offer that I had over the summer so I took it and ran with it.
Dime: What ultimately made you decide to sign with Maccabi Ashdod in Israel?
KG: I’ve heard some good things about Israel and I thought that it would be a good fit for me and give me a chance to showcase my talent in a different country.
Dime: Before going to Israel for the first time, what did you know about the country prior to arriving?
KG: Well I didn’t know about the missiles and all of the on-going wars over here! But I knew that Israel is a very religious country and that Jerusalem was a place that I wanted to visit, and that is something still on the to-do list.
Dime: What were your first impressions of Israel? Was it different than what you expected?
KG: Umm… Israel is very different. Patience is one thing that doesn’t exist over here and it’s kind of funny because people will cut you off whether you are walking or driving. They really don’t care. Also a lot of people stare at me because I’m tall but some can’t speak English so they just stare. It’s a really awkward feeling. But overall it’s a nice place to come visit.
Dime: Have you had a chance to explore the country at all and do any sightseeing?
KG: I haven’t gotten a chance to visit how I want to. But Tel Aviv looks like a smaller version of Atlanta because of how busy it is. If I get the chance I want to go and take time and visit Jerusalem.
Dime: Prior to the recent spate of violence, how would you describe your experience in Israel? Have you enjoyed it?
KG: I’ve enjoyed Israel. It has its ups and downs. It’s just being away from your family and just trying to learn a new language and get accustomed to things can be difficult at times. Taking pictures with kids and random people is always fun because they don’t get to see a 6-8 person like me every day.
Dime: When was the first time you heard a siren, and what was your reaction upon hearing it?
KG: My reaction was “What is goin’ on!” It’s crazy because the people that live here are kind of accustomed to it and they just wait for a big boom and then they say that everything is ok. On the other hand, I was nervous and really wanted to know the details ofwhat was going on.
Dime: In your estimation, how many sirens do you think you’ve heard to this day?
KG: I’ve probably heard about maybe 15-plus sirens. Some of them come back to back to back.
Dime: What happens to you each time you hear a siren? What are you thinking at the time?
KG: The thing that crosses my mind the most is my son KJ and my family and friends. I just hope that I can stay safe and see them as soon as I can.