Wow, was I wrong!
When I first heard that we were to go to Kfar Giladi to spend Shabbat with the Maccabiah ice hockey teams, my response was, “Ice hockey, who cares about ice hockey in Israel ? Great, and we have the longest trip of everyone.”
We brought two hockey bags on our aliyah lift. It took a lot of nerve and a fit of Pesach cleaning mania, to open them, wash what was still usable and toss the rest of the nasty stuff.
My son played ice hockey in high school, and just saying the words brought back the distinctive smell, (the awful odor) that emerged when the hockey bag was opened in the front entrance way, where it was usually dumped on the way into the house.
The US teen hockey players made themselves at home in the hotel lobby. And yes, I know they were the Americans,
because the better funded Canadians had matching bags that were easy to recognize.
The only ice skating rink in Israel is located in the Canada Centre in Metulla, at the northernmost tip of Israel.
This community was established over 100 years ago by Zionist pioneers, and is surrounded on three sides by Lebanon..
At the Maccabiah Opening Ceremony in Jerusalem, Israel’s Teddy Stadium, over 70 countries participated.
The Ice Hockey Opening Ceremony, was on a much less grandiose scale, as only five countries sent teams.
The Canadians dominated the ice much of the time, but three teams came from USA, one in each age group.
The teen USA players were mostly from the northeastern part of country, but one boy was from California and another from South Carolina. This “team” came together just before the start of Maccabiah games.
The Israeli teams now have a new and improved ice-skating rink on which to improve their skills.
The Russian and Ukrainian teams were much smaller, but played their sport very seriously.
The fourteen ice hockey referees were international, with three coming from Denmark, so for most this was their first trip to Israel.
So do Israelis care about ice hockey or the Maccabiah events?
They should care and care a lot, and not just the mayor of and people of Metulla.
The Maccabiah events are about bringing people together.
How else would this woman working in Metulla and the Canadian woman who came from Vancouver, Canada, to watch her grandson play ice hockey ever meet.
Many extended families came from overseas to watch and support the athletes and spent time sightseeing and enjoying a positive experience in Israel.
A Canadian school teacher told me, “I have not been to Israel in so many years, and I am so glad I decided to come to see my son play. I feel so at home here. I am trying to figure out why it took me so long.”
She is already planning to come back next summer.
I got to meet so many wonderful young men from Canada and US who were on the teams, and of course, the adults who were with them.
My only regret is that I did not take along that old stick that has been on the porch for the last seven years for everyone to autograph.
And perhaps some day, the Russians and the Ukrainians will be willing to sit on the same bus.