As people around the world watch the horror play out as fighting continues in Israel, there are people from Northeast Florida who were caught in the melee and are making their way home.
One of them is Baker County High School graduate Delicia Washington, 26, a professional basketball player from Macclenny who attended the University of Florida and graduated from Clemson University. She was playing pro ball in Israel and was there Saturday when war broke out.
Now she is home safe.
“So usually I was in Jerusalem. Usually, they have like, celebrations like almost like every day of the week. So I constantly heard fireworks, I was seeing fireworks, so that morning, I hear the noise. But I’m thinking it’s fireworks because they have like holidays almost every day of the week. So I finally opened my eyes, and I’m in a group chat with my teammates and my coaches. And the first thing I locked my eyes on is that we are at war,” Washington told News4JAX on Tuesday. “Honestly, I was really frightened. My first thing I was thinking of was my family members, people back at home.”
At the time, her family in Macclenny had no idea what was going on until she called and told them about the deadly violence near her.
“So I didn’t know how to take it at the time,” Delicia Washington’s mother Tara said. “While I was talking with Delicia, you know, you can hear the noises in the background, the helicopters, the bombs, or whatever. I know I should have stayed strong for her, but I just wasn’t able.”
Delicia’s team Hapoel Jerusalem was just beginning its new season and was set to play a game that day.
“The president of our organization and my coach, they call us and tell us that they want us to be safe. So they was gonna try to get us on the next flight to go home,” Delicia Washington said.
Delicia Washington said when she arrived at the airport in Tel Aviv she was met with chaos.
“A lot of people. A lot of people frustrated, me personally frustrated too, just trying to get out of there and be safe. But I was just trying to get to the gates to get to my gate so I can get home,” she said.
She later heard there was an attack near the airport.
“Don’t know really who it was. But I made sure, because I’ve been playing this game a long time, so I reached out to some former teammates that was also in Israel to make sure they were safe and everybody I talked to they was at home safe or either boarding on their flight to go home,” she said.
When she finally got to the airport in Florida, her mother was there waiting.
“I just grabbed her. I was just so glad to see her back home. I didn’t know what to think. I was just glad my baby was home,” her mother said.
While Delicia was trying to make her way home, her grandmother was trying to hold the family together through prayer, but she was always nervous about her granddaughter being overseas.
“Before she left, I asked her not to go over there because I know there’s always something going on over there,” Parker said.
Delicia’s brother even took a bold step to try and get his sister home. He called the White House and left a message for President Joe Biden.
“He said, ‘Y’all got Brittney Griner back and I need y’all to get Delicia Washington.’ So when he seen the news they said the president was going over that way, he would say, ‘I guess he got my message,’” Tara Washington said.
They laugh about it now, but they know how serious the situation is for others who are still waiting to hear from and see loved ones.
Delicia Washington has played professional basketball in the U.S., Mexico and Italy but said she has no plans to return to Israel.