I can safely say that I am the only person in the world who has exhibited memorabilia relating to Paul Henderson and Theodor Herzl at the same time.
It was back in 2010.
During that year, an exhibit of memorabilia from the 1972 Canada-Russia hockey series travelled across Canada. The exhibit featured the sweater Henderson wore when he scored his historic series-winning goal (more about that goal later), which had recently been purchased by Toronto business leader and Maccabi Tel Aviv Football Club owner Mitchell Goldhar. The exhibit included some of my memorabilia from the series which I collected when I was 11 years old.
At the same time, Beth Tzedec synagogue in Toronto hosted an exhibit of artifacts from my Herzl collection which is the largest in the world.
I expect there are readers of this article who are hockey fans who know about Paul Henderson, but don’t know about Theodor Herzl, and there are readers who know about Herzl but not about Henderson. Readers who know both might be wondering what these two people have to do with each other.
Paul Henderson is a Canadian hockey player who was a member of Team Canada which played the Soviet Union (we called it Russia) in an eight game hockey series in September 1972. The first four games were in Canada with the last four in Moscow. Canada was expected to beat the Russians handily, and the entire country was shocked when Canada lost the first game badly, and then lost several others. Canada needed to win the last three games in Moscow to win the series, which we did, with Paul Henderson scoring the winning goal in all three games. In the eighth and deciding game (50 years ago, on September 28, 1972), Henderson scored the winning goal with only 34 seconds left to play. Canada was relieved, Henderson was a hero, and the winning goal is widely recognized as one of the most important events in Canadian history.
Theodor Herzl is the visionary of the State of Israel. He was a lawyer, playwright and journalist who concluded in 1895 that the Jews of Europe were in mortal danger due to antisemitism, that it would never go away, and that the only solution is for the Jewish people to have a state of their own. He travelled broadly to advance his plan, wrote books, convened international congresses and dedicated the last eight years of his life to this mission. He died in Austria in 1904 at 44 years of age. A legally assured homeland for the Jewish people in the Land of Israel was his goal. When Israel became a country on May 14, 1948, Herzl’s goal was achieved.
It is not obvious that there is any connection between an important international hockey series and the concerns Herzl had about the future of the Jewish people, but in fact there is.
In 1972, three thousand Canadians travelled to Moscow to watch the last four games of the series. Wendy Eisen, a Torontonian and leader in the international effort to save Soviet Jewry, described in her book “Count Us In-The Struggle to Free Soviet Jews” how some Canadian Jews used the hockey games as a cover to meet Soviet Jews:
“Most Jewish Canadians who visited the Soviet Union in the early 1970s travelled with an organized group. Some were among the three thousand who journeyed to Moscow in the fall of 1972 to support Team Canada in the first Canada-Russia hockey series. They brought Hebrew prayer books, Russian-Hebrew dictionaries and religious articles, in anticipation of meeting Jews in the synagogue.
A few individuals made contact with Soviet Jews in their apartments. One of the Toronto travellers, H. Wayne Tanenbaum, briefed by CJC’s Ontario Region Soviet Jewry director, Sam Resnick, had divided a number of Jewish books and religious items among many of the hockey players’ wives, who willingly packed the articles in their luggage. In Moscow, Tanenbaum made contact with several refuseniks whom he met in public places, and managed to dodge a plainclothesman who followed him to refusenik Dr. Alexander Lerner’s apartment.
Montrealers Jack Zittrer and Edward Bronfman spent several evenings visiting Soviet Jews in their apartments, engaging them in lengthy discussions. Bronfman was followed everywhere. He was called to the Canadian Embassy by the ambassador, who instructed him to ask his fellow travellers to stop distributing religious material in the synagogues. Bronfman’s notes and film were confiscated before he left the Soviet Union.
The Toronto group related their stories at community meetings when they returned. Robert Kaplan, a federal Liberal candidate present at one of the meetings, emphasized his position: “Political candidates should commit themselves on the Soviet Jewish question and be prepared to appeal directly to the Soviets on behalf of Soviet Jews.”
The actions of these Canadian hockey fans was audacious, because this was prior to Soviet Jewry advocacy in Canada. They were among the first Canadians to meet with refuseniks.
In 2018, Paul Henderson was the guest in our family Sukkah for an event sponsored by the Canadian Friends of Tel Aviv University.
Billed as the Sukkah Summit, Henderson spoke about how his life changed (he is a devout Christian) after becoming an instant Canadian hockey hero. He mentioned how sports promoter Irv Ungerman sent steaks to Moscow for the Canadian team, which the Russians stole. He also spoke about his visit to Israel in 2010, and shared the same sentiment he expressed upon his return:
“To understand the resilience of the Jewish People and what they have come from 60 years ago… it’s mind-boggling. You’ve got a country today, a military, a progressive society, commerce, and you’re world leaders in a lot of fields. To me, there has to be a God, or you people wouldn’t be here.”
Henderson had experienced in Israel what Herzl envisioned.
I once asked a group of people what Paul Henderson and Theodor Herzl would say to each other if they met. One answer summarizes the connection. It was this:
Herzl to Henderson: Nice goal.
Henderson to Herzl: You too.
Indeed, both Paul Henderson and Theodor Herzl had great goals.