A VIP visit from one of their two chief donors should have had students at the Nazareth Tigers Hockey School hitting the roof!
But the junior-sized pitch is open-air, causing many rainy season training sessions and fixtures to be cancelled. The exorbitant cost of building a retractable roof makes such a solution impossible for an outfit like the Tigers, and one father I met at Sunday’s First Annual Sidney Greenberg Nazareth Hockey Tournament instead ruminated on more home-spun ideas to tackle the problem.
Meanwhile, Sunday’s weather was intensely cold, but this did not prevent players and spectators from giving Mr Greenberg and his party a riotous welcome that included loud cheers, much lusty banging of hockey sticks on the pitch – followed by music recitals by two boys wearing their team kit and shin pads!
Sidney Greenberg, a highly respected Canadian philanthropist and former media magnate, is a co-equal sponsor of the Tigers along with the Green family, fellow Toronto philanthropists, whose own contribution is marked with a wall plaque by the pitch.
Mr Greenberg addressed the crowd before opening the match by dropping the ceremonial ‘puck’ and then mingled with players and spectators.
But even as events unfolded in Nazareth, those present were unaware that they were helping to throw the spotlight on local natural co-existence.
Team coach Marc Milzman said: “There is absolutely no emphasis on religion and/or politics at the Tigers hockey school. It is open to everyone regardless of their religion. The only emphasis is on a mutual love of hockey. We never discuss religion. The doors are open to absolutely every family that wants their kids to learn about our wonderful sport”.
The school attracts youngsters of all backgrounds, from tots to teens and Milzman added:
“The brotherhood and sisterhood that these kids have for each other transcends religion. They are team-mates and will grow through the years as team-mates. We don't talk about coexistence, we simply live it.
“If any intolerance were ever shown, that would be the last time the kid or their family would be welcome at the school. It's just about hockey. The sport, the camaraderie, the family aspect. That's all. There is no "mission statement" describing this. It is simply a dynamic that all kids are wanted if they want to play.
“Nobody is turned away. That's what I mean by ‘living’ … The programme is not modelled on religious tolerance and coexistence. It exists on it. It is so natural, it is almost an afterthought. This is what appeals most to me. There is no forced acceptance of a politically correct dogma. It just ‘is’. The Canada Israel Hockey School is pretty much based on the same thing and the motto is ‘We Play Together’.
“It's a beautiful thing in this part of the world. But it's a product that developed naturally and shepherded by really good people”.
And as the Tigers prepare for a hockey weekend to include ‘inline’ games against teams from Metula and Galil Elyon, their development manager, Ramez Laham said: “I don't like us, as a sports school, to be involved in political and religious issues. Our main aim is to look beyond such matters”.
© Natalie Wood (23 February 2017)