Games We Play: Local hockey pioneers return to the ice

Former Canadian gathers hockey fans from all over Israel to form club.

Danny Spodek was determined to play ice hockey in Israel. After making aliyah from Canada some years back, he first approached the Canada Center about the possibility of renting ice time for himself and a few friends, and when that didn't work out, he made his way to the smaller rink in Ma'alot and started skating with some of the players there, and continued to practice with them for some time. In January, the Center in Metulla was more receptive to his request and Spodek was able to organize a group, some two dozen former Canadians and Americans from all over the country, to take part in a once-a-month, non-contact game on a Thursday night. The local league plays on Friday nights, while most of these hockey club members are religious. "That first game [in January], you should have seen the excitement [on the faces] of the guys who were on the ice for the first time in a good number of years, and it just grew from that point on," said Ira Blevis from Zichron Ya'acov and formerly of Toronto. Most of the guys in the club, who range in age from 20 to 50+, finish work, pack their gear (up to twenty kilograms worth) and head up to the northernmost part of the country. Then they return home in the wee hours of the morning in order to prepare for Shabbat. Roy Annau, who played on the very first national hockey team, comes all the way from Kibbutz Ein Gedi near the Dead Sea. After four evenings prior to the summer break, Spodek, a dentist who lives in Zichron Ya'acov, found himself organizing teams for the current season. "There are currently more than 24 players [including women], who have committed themselves to playing on a regular basis," he said, "while there are another thirty who are alternates, for now, who can't commit to a full schedule. [We've] already committed ourselves to a dozen matches over the next ten months." Many of the players have lengthy hockey backgrounds, with a few having played in the very first league in Israel, as well as having being involved in it's organization. Paul Shindman, a former resident of Toronto who travels from Efrat, was one of the founders of hockey in Israel. After he made aliyah in 1987, he also played on the first national team. That team was made up of players from teams in a league that played on a small rink in Bat Yam, which could only accommodate four-onfour games. Shindman was one of the main forces behind Israel joining the International Ice Hockey Federation in 1991. The national team jersey of Nathan Eisner of Ginot Shomron, also formerly of Toronto, was included in the international section of Hockey's Hall of Fame in Toronto after Israel's first foray into the world arena, the 1992 International Ice Hockey Federation's World Championships in Johannesburg, South Africa. After playing for the team in '92 and '93, he managed the team for another two years Fred Pulver, who made aliyah and last played ice hockey some nine years ago, was so enthusiatsic about this season's hockey club that he bought a whole new set of equipment on a recent business trip to Europe. Wayne Horowitz, one of the regulars and formerly from the New York area and a professor of Assyriology at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, moved his entire family from Kfar Adumim to Metulla. His children, Lisa (19), Michael (16) and Liam (14), all play on junior national teams. Lisa is also organizing the first women's league. In addition to the scheduled number of games this season, the club will be fielding a team for the First Annual International Israel Ice Hockey Tournament that will be held at the Canada Center from January 24-26, 2006, and will also include teams from New York/New Jersey area, the US, Montreal, Toronto and a women's team, and is sponsored by the Israel Ice Hockey Federation. "Basically," Spodek added, "we're just here to have fun, and we would be happy to hear from any others who are interested in participating."