Ice Hockey Lessons for the Jewish Community

My wife told me when I started writing my weekly email that I was not allowed to write about professional wrestling (Portland trivia -- December 28 marked the 20th anniversary of Don Owen’s Big Time Wrestling ending after 38 years on KPTV here in Portland. Perhaps you were a fan of Lonnie “Moondog” Mayne, “Tough” Tony Bourne, “Playboy” Buddy Rose or even “Rowdy” Roddy Piper before he became a national star). So, instead, let me write about ice hockey. 

How does a person from Orlando, Florida, who did not see snow until he was 18 years old, and maybe went ice skating ten times his entire life (prior to moving to Portland) become a hockey fan? Well, Orlando was one of the first cities in America to have cable television and my favorite channel was the Madison Square Garden Network since I got to watch all the New York Rangers’ hockey games. Today, my daughter does figure skating and my son plays ice hockey – all while I can barely go forward and cannot stop without using the boards.

A few weeks ago I read an article written by Ken Dryden, six-time Stanley Cup Champion goalie for the Montreal Canadiens and former member of the Parliament of Canada. He wrote about the challenges facing the game of hockey and how he felt National Hockey League commissioner, Gary Bettman, should address those issues.

Dryden focused on three areas:

  • How do you make hockey matter and of interest to more than just an intensely dedicated minority (primarily Canadians and people in the northern part of the United States)?

  •  “Hockey guys” are so immersed in a game they love and played their whole lives and so respectful of its traditions that they do not fully understand the changes that have occurred. They perceive the changes in technology, strategy and training as natural evolutions of the game, yet without understanding the unintended consequences (larger/stronger athletes and more concussions).

  • In sports today, at all levels, the issue of concussions is becoming more and more serious. But before believing the “cause/effect” nature of 220 pound hockey players crashing into one another at 25 mph, the NHL Commissioner says he wants more medical science and data, not anecdotes, before making a definitive judgment about concussions. In no way am I “playing doctor,” but there have been several athletes from multiple sports in recent years who have died with the presence of CTE (chronic traumatic encephalopathy -- symptoms are similar to Alzheimer’s Disease), which is thought to be caused by repeated blows to the head.

I know you are saying, “What does all of this have to do with anything?” Well, the Jewish community’s issues are not so different.

  • Just as Gary Bettman wants to grow the sport of ice hockey, we too want to grow the importance of Jewish identity and Jewish values. Our Jewish community certainly has its share of “die hards” who are intensely dedicated to being Jewish. However, the fastest growing segment of the Jewish community is those who simply identify themselves as “just Jewish.” The bottom line – the Jewish community needs to capture new audiences and create new “fans.”

  • Many Jewish communal leaders live in a “Jewish bubble” where they are often blind to what is actually happening around them. With the evolution of technology, opportunities and experiences both within and outside the Jewish community, and universal openness, I believe we are seeing unintended consequences -- fewer and fewer of the “next generation” are involving themselves in Jewish communal life and others are finding less and less interest and meaning in what "we" currently offer.

  • Now, I have no comparisons for head injuries, yet I do believe there are data driven studies and plenty of anecdotes detailing “cause and effect” of long-term Jewish involvement. Jewish pre-schools, Jewish day schools, Jewish summer camps, Israel programs, family observances at home, and other immersive type experiences work. Other programs may have less of an impact, or perhaps are a “turn off.” How many formal studies do we need before we recognize that Jewish communal involvement is less today than it has been in the past? Anecdotes and stories can provide insight into what works and what does not (understanding that each person will respond differently).

Dryden suggested to the NHL Commissioner -- and I will make the same suggestion to you – “We must move, and move quickly…At the end of the day, we can deny the problems or try to manage them by doing something. The changes that are necessary are not undoable. We may not know the dimensions of the whole problem. And we do not know all the answers…(however) we cannot wait for this generation to get old just so we can know for sure” (if we did the right things).

Shabbat shalom.


PS – Look for the new community e-newsletter, Community Connections, in your email starting on January 15th. We look forward to your thoughts and feedback as we continue to bring you the latest Jewish community news.

PPS – Last call for anyone interested in participating on Federation’s Hood to Coast race team. Please click here to apply.


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