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Getting Women's Hockey into the Maccabi Games

Team Canada's Melissa Wronzberg shares a first-hand account of what it took to get women's hockey included in the Maccabi Games for the very first time this year.
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Next year, in Jerusalem.

This phrase is often used in the Jewish religion during the Passover holiday. Today, I use it to talk about Women’s hockey, as this year, for the first time ever an international women’s hockey event will happen on Israeli soil, after years of waiting, at least for some of us.

My dream to go to the Maccabi Games first started when I was in high school and a friend of mine told me about his experience representing Canada at the games for Rugby. I thought, how cool is that. The Maccabi games are often referred to as the Jewish Olympics. Athletes from all over the world gather in Israel every 4 years for sporting events, just like the Olympics. This year, 66 nations are going to be represented at the games.

I looked into it that year, but was disappointed to see no women’s hockey included. I did nothing.

In 2016, while studying Journalism at the former Ryerson University, I volunteered, writing articles for Maccabi Canada. While doing this, I inquired about the Maccabiah games being able to add women’s hockey. We weren’t able to do it. I didn’t push.

On March 11, 2021, Chelsey Goldberg, of the USA Maccabiah team and I exchanged messages on Instagram. We both had a goal in mind. Get Women’s hockey into the Maccabiah games in 2022. Chelsey too had been frustrated past years by it not being included, and she had already started to try to find people with interest on the US side and beyond through her Instagram posts. So I took it as a wake-up call to get it going on the Canadian side.

I sent an email to Maccabi Canada’s head office:

“I would like to help in putting together a women's hockey team for the Maccabi games and getting it added to the games. I have already been talking to a fellow female hockey player in the US about this as well. I’d like to know who I should speak to to help try to make this a reality. Women’s hockey is such a growing sport and it’s a shame that it isn't already part of it. I understand we need several teams to make it a reality. But I’d like to know we at least tried.”

I heard back from Maccabi Canada and it started with a phone call letting me know it wouldn’t be easy, and possibly close to impossible because of the fees involved and rounding up enough women who are able to take the time off from work, away from family, cover the fees, etc. There were a lot of reasons to not bother, and I’d be lying if I said it didn’t make me question if it was worth trying. But, I wasn’t going to just let it go again.

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On March 31st, 2021, Jodi Berris, another member of the USA women’s hockey team sent an email to set up a call that included Chelsey, myself and members of the USA and Canada Maccabi offices, including Ashley Kochman and Devra Schorr. We used this call to brainstorm how best we could recruit more Jewish female hockey players. We all had the same end goal, pushing us to help grow the game of Women’s hockey, and specifically, the women’s game specifically for Jewish female athletes and in Israel.

I started to reach out to Jewish hockey players I knew to get an idea of interest. Molly Tissenbaum and Lauren Weisbarth had already expressed interest directly to Maccabi Canada as they had previously participated in softball at the games. So, that was an easy two to check off. Next, I reached out to friends and asked them to reach out to their friends. There were hurdles for sure, but there was also a good amount of interest to get the ball rolling towards getting these games off the ground.

In May we asked for an extension of time from the Maccabi World Union to be able to make one final push to get the games off the ground. The USA seemed to have good interest, but we were still lacking on the Canadian side.

As June 2021 approached, in my head, I was starting to think this was not going to happen. I had reached out to everyone I could think of, and we still didn’t have enough willing to 100% jump in.

On June 19, 2021, I got a text message that would rejuvenate our mission on the Canadian side. Mitch Miller texted me, asking if I had time to chat. That phone call was a lot quicker than Mitch thought it was going to be. He was calling to see if I was interested in possibly trying to get Women’s hockey into the games. He didn’t know that it was already in the works. I filled him in, and he told me about Shelby Calof, who had reached out to him wanting to get this going. All of a sudden, we had new hope.

We got Mitch and Shelby in the loop with our monthly calls with the USA side to give the update. Shelby started reaching out to people she knew as well as random people who she found on Women’s college hockey websites that looked like they may have a Jewish last name.

On July 4, 2021, we had our first email inviting any Canadian Jewish player who had expressed any interest to a zoom call to go over further details.

On July 29 Ashley sent us our registration numbers, and as Mitch put it in his response,

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“Ashley, Thank you for this update! You made my day. Ladies - I think we're going to Israel to play hockey. Well...you're playing hockey.”

I remember looking at my screen for a minute, still in some disbelief. This was finally going to happen.

Now, I get to represent my country, my heritage, and my culture, all in one shot, because we got a group of 16 women who are ready and willing to put in the time and work, and we as a unit, get to help grow the game for Female Jewish players and beyond along with the USA and Israeli teams.

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