When Sidney Greenberg was 30, in 1967, he came to Israel with his older brother
Harold at the invitation of fellow Canadian Charles Bronfman, for an economic
conference aimed at encouraging Jewish businessmen in the Diaspora to invest in
“People were throwing out numbers like $50 million,
$60m. I looked at my brother and said, ‘What are we doing here?’” recalled
Greenberg on Sunday in an interview with The Jerusalem Post. “I turned to the
guy next to me and introduced myself, and found out he was the son of Baron de
Bronfman presented the Greenberg brothers, who had started a
local camera shop in Montreal that had become a multimedia empire called Astral,
as the people who would rescue the floundering Israeli cinema
The two bought Geva Studios, the country’s first production
company, for $5m., and immediately set to work.
On a tour of the studios,
Sid Greenberg knocked on the supposedly soundproof wall of the recording studio.
“What’s this made of?” he asked.
Straw, they answered.
‘Oh boy, I think we have a problem here,’” he recounted with a
Greenberg oversaw Geva Studios for a number of years and
encouraged the relatively late switch from black and white to color in 1969. He
remembers fondly the disastrous cowboy movie he brought to be filmed here, which
ended with dozens of broken bones and concussions because the directors couldn’t
find any riders in the country who knew how to do stunts on horses.
Sunday, he accepted an award from Cinematheque benefactor Lia Van Leer, head of
the Jerusalem Film Festival, which runs through July 16.
honored his contributions to the film industry in Israel, and noted that Geva
Studios, which the Greenbergs later sold to Israeli owners, is celebrating 50
years in October.
But Greenberg’s investments here have expanded far
beyond the film industry to sports, culture and sciences.
In addition to
being a generous benefactor of the Canadian Friends of Hebrew University, his
real passion is encouraging the use of sports as public diplomacy for Israel
across the world. He was the head of Maccabi Canada from 1985 to 1993 and a
board member of the Canadian Olympic Committee from 1983 to 2003. He organized
the first Russian delegation to the Maccabi Games in 1989, with 100 athletes,
and was responsible for forming Maccabi Russia.
Today, he is the
financial force behind the Canada-Israel Hockey School in Metulla, which grew
from a struggling program at the rink with 30 local participants, to a
flourishing after-school program for 300 Druse and Israeli students across the
The nascent team surprised the world when it won the 2010
championships in the 12-year-old division of its league, in the prestigious
International Pee-Wee tournament in Quebec.
“Parts of Canada are very
anti-Semitic,” Greenberg explained. But when the Israeli team won, “the whole
He added, “These are the best ambassadors that Israel
has. The consul-general couldn’t believe what the Israeli kids could do [for
Now, the Israeli national team is invited to
tournaments in Sweden, Switzerland and Finland, countries that are traditionally
not bastions of Zionist support, he said.
ON SUNDAY, Greenberg met with
the mayors of Metulla and Majdal Shams to reflect on the past year and a half of
operation and plans for the future of hockey in the country.
Canadian painted his vision of Israel hosting the premier youth summer hockey
tournament, his enthusiasm and passion crowded out any room for
Hockey is already a given in Metulla, a village of 2,000 tucked in
among the foothills of the Hermon. Since the “Canada Centre” rink was built in
1995 with other Canadian donations, it has struggled to support a hockey team
due to the astronomical costs of importing the amount of gear needed for the
Enter Greenberg, who has invested more than $150,000 per
year in the school and attracted high-profile names like Air Canada, which
agreed to ship all of the gear for free, and the National Hockey League (NHL),
which is donating new and used gear and making a documentary about the
“You need to be a crazy Jew, in the best way possible, to donate
this amount of money to keep this thing going,” said Metulla mayor Herzel Boker
at the meeting with Greenberg.
“You are doing holy work.”
the participants pay a nominal monthly fee of NIS 56, which covers insurance and
other incidentals. In America or Canada, the fees for a hockey season – which
runs for about half of Israel’s season, from November to March – can run to
$1,000, plus hundreds of dollars for equipment, skates, skatesharpening,
helmets, and special jerseys that fit over the pads.
None of the gear is
available in Israel and must be shipped from overseas. When the icecleaning
Zamboni died just 10 days before a competition in 2010, Greenberg had to pack
and ship a 3,000-kg. Zamboni to Israel in a matter of hours.
But no one
at Metulla’s ice rink sees any problem with encouraging an expensive sport that
is only possible with large foreign donations.
“I dreamt of playing
hockey my whole life. I used to play rollerblade hockey in Jerusalem, and when I
heard about this, I thought there was a catch,” said Asher Platzky, a Kiryat
Shmona resident whose two daughters and son all play hockey in
“It’s the fastest sport, it’s really something special,” he
“The whole idea of this sport is very new for us,” said Dolan Abu
Salh, the 34-year-old mayor of the Druse village of Majdal Shams, which sends a
busload of students to train twice a week in Metulla with their Israeli
“But people don’t understand what it does for the child. It means
they’re expending their energy in the right way, in the correct way, and it’s
good for the parents, too, when their kids come home exhausted but rich in
experience,” he said.
More than 100 Druse students from a variety of
villages participate in the hockey school, making up a third of its students.
Until recently, 15 students came from Ghajar, which is located half in Israel
and half in Lebanon.
Some of the students had to cross the Lebanese
border twice a week to come to hockey practice. After violence on the border
following Nakba Day, the Ghajar students were forced to withdraw from the
program, but plan on resuming their involvement at the beginning of the season
On Sunday, the school held its closing ceremony for the
season, which runs from September to June. All of the students – from
five-year-old boys whose large hockey uniforms almost brushed the ice as they
staggered around in circles, through the teenagers on the national team, turning
slick moves – gathered for a summer send-off that recognized the most improved
players, as well as Greenberg’s support of the program.
coming up to me, saying their kids never want to miss practice. It’s amazing –
this is what it’s all about,” said the Canadian benefactor as he watched a group
of nine- to 12-year-olds skate in figure-eights behind their coach.
at how many kids there are!” he exclaimed.
“When you spend money, you
don’t want to see just 10 kids.”
Greenberg has stars in his eyes over the
team and the possibilities on an international level. He envisions hockey as a
hasbara (public diplomacy) powerhouse – mentions of the Metulla ice rink in
major media outlets, positive stories about the success of the Druse- Israeli
team in a country with no ice, missions of Israeli and Canadian teams
crisscrossing the globe to each other’s countries in displays of solidarity and
understanding. Canadians, the Swiss, the Swedes and other hockey fans will
understand Israelis best when they can relate to a shared passion, Greenberg
But Boker’s views have a more local focus: Putting Metula on
the map as the home of hockey in the Middle East will fill hotel rooms and
restaurants and support other local businesses in the country’s neglected
The town’s claim to fame isn’t about to be challenged anytime
soon, as it is the only ice skating rink in Israel. But Greenberg has plans for
that as well: He’s playing with the idea of helping develop the country’s three
largest “hockey” teams – in Rishon Lezion, Bat Yam and Tel Noar/Yahud, where
they play and practice on rollerblades – to form a functional and competitive
youth league. Future plans could include rinks in other parts of the country,
such as the Center or possibly even Eilat.
The thermometer was
approaching 30º outside on Sunday. Some of the skaters inside were wearing tank
tops and gloves, others wearing modest religious skirts or large kippot.
“Teenage Wasteland” blasted from the speakers as kids of all ages slipped and
slid across the ice during scrimmages, knocking each other over with abandon and
smacking their sticks on the rink when they scored.
“They are learning
about a sport they never would have otherwise,” said Greenberg, as another team
took the ice for a practice scrimmage. “It’s just amazing.”