Ice hockey is not the first thing that comes to mind when most people think of Israel. Not so for Marblehead resident and hockey player Jacob Aizanman, who secured more than 200 pieces of equipment to bring to the Canada-Israel Hockey School for his bar mitzvah project.
It all started four years ago when Jacob’s mother, Melissa, was at the Western Wall in Jerusalem during an Eim Chai Jewish Women’s Renaissance Project trip. She asked a woman who was wearing a hockey shirt with a Canadian symbol to take her picture. The two started chatting, and Melissa learned the woman was an Olympic gold medalist who was in Israel to promote the documentary, “Neutral Zone.”
“My husband [Darren] is Canadian. Jacob loves playing hockey. It felt ‘beshert’ [meant to be],” said Melissa. She couldn’t wait to get home and suggest the Canada-Israel Hockey School as a possible mitzvah project for Jacob’s bar mitzvah, which would be held in 2018 at Temple Sinai in Marblehead.
“Neutral Zone” (vimeo.com/70459909) documents a program at the Canada-Israel Hockey School in Metula, a town in the northernmost tip of Israel, smack between the Syrian and Lebanese borders. The program’s goal is to promote peace between the next generation of Israeli Arab and Jewish kids through playing hockey together.
“You’d think there would be bombs coming at us,” said Sidney Greenberg, who helped launch the CIHS and is vice president of one of Canada’s largest media companies. “Instead, here’s a hockey rink in the center of it.”
The kids who participate include Druze and Muslims from villages in the Golan Heights, Jews from kibbutzim and nearby towns, and Christian Arabs from Nazareth.
Many area Arab kids had never met a Jew. Many Jewish kids thought only of rockets screaming across the sky from Lebanon toward their homes when they thought of Arabs. Now those same kids are teammates, several even self-described “best friends.”
“Is that going to get us peace in the Middle East?” asked CIHS Head Coach Mike Mazeika in the film’s first minutes. “Probably not. But if you don’t start small and take tiny steps, you’ll never be able to take a big step.”
Jacob Aizanman, who plays hockey at Veterans Middle School and in Marblehead Youth Hockey, watched the documentary and knew contributing to the school was going to be the mitzvah project for his bar mitzvah. “I love hockey. I’m Jewish. And it’s cool to learn they play hockey in Israel,” he said.
With his mom’s assistance, Jacob contacted the CIHS to find out how he could help. He learned they needed specific gear (neck guards and jock straps). Luckily, his uncle, Jeffrey Volk, has spent his career in the sports media industry, and connected them with the right people to get the donations. The NHL and Pure Hockey agreed to support the project.
“They wanted to get involved. They wanted to promote hockey in countries not usually associated with the sport,” Melissa said.
Over 200 pieces of equipment arrived at their Marblehead home in four huge boxes. The entire family schlepped it all to Israel and on July 10, Jacob presented it in person to CIHS. The highlight for Jacob was being invited to skate on the ice and hang out in the locker room. He even received an offer to return next summer and coach hockey.
Jacob is proud that he was able to provide the school with fresh gear and promote his favorite sport in his Jewish homeland. “It was really meaningful and still has an impact on me,” he said.