Making real people connections between our Jewish community in Ottawa and our partnership region in Israel’s north is at the heart of the Jewish Federation of Ottawa’s Partnership2Gether (P2G) program.
Oz Lustig and Annika Sharabi are 15-year-old girls from Kibbutz Kfar Giladi who play hockey. Actually, they don’t just play hockey, they have a passion for our sport. The Israeli girls learned to skate and develop their skills attending hockey school at the Canada Centre in Metulla.
This summer, Oz and Annika were in Ottawa attending the Ottawa Senators’ Summer Hockey Camp at the Bell Sensplex and spending time getting to know Ottawa and our Jewish community.
As any young hockey player might be, Oz and Annika were nervous about whether their skills would be on par with the Canadian-born hockey players in their group. But, they needn’t have worried.
“We’re very impressed by their level of skating and hockey knowledge,” said Caleigh McMillan, one of the on-ice coaches at the Senators’ Camp. In fact, McMillan added, Oz and Annika “have been helping the coaches with the younger kids.”
“It’s great having two female athletes from Israel,” said Alec Vice, development programs coordinator at the Bell Sensplex. Vice added that it is nice to see the Senators’ hockey family still has a strong connection with hockey in Israel. Vice was referring to the late Roger Neilson, a former Senators coach who spent a few summers coaching hockey in Israel, and to former Senators captain Laurie Boschman who ran a hockey camp in Israel with Olympic women’s hockey gold medalist Tessa Bonhomme in 2014.
Oz and Annika loved the experience provided by the Ottawa Senators.
“The coaches are great, and it’s different for us to have female coaches and to play with only girls,” said Annika.
“Maybe we can invite Caleigh and the other coaches to Israel and get more girls to play at the Canada Centre,” added Oz.
While they were here, the girls got to meet retired Ottawa Senators players Chris Phillips and Chris Neil, as well as current NHL player Claude Giroux, captain of the Philadelphia Flyers.
When Oz and Annika were not at the Bell Sensplex, they spent time visiting with residents at the Bess and Moe Greenberg Family Hillel Lodge, touring the Soloway Jewish Community Centre, and having a memorable visit at Camp B’nai Brith of Ottawa. At each stop, members of the Jewish community of Ottawa were happy to meet the two Israeli teens, test their own knowledge of Hebrew and then ask the big three questions: “You really play hockey in Israel?” “Where in Israel do you live?” And, “Do you know (so and so) who lives in Israel?”
An added bonus to the Israeli girls attending the Ottawa Senators Hockey Camp is that they quickly became unofficial ambassadors of Israel, of their kibbutz and of our community’s partnership region. For many of the kids attending the hockey camp, it was their first opportunity to meet actual Israelis after only being exposed to short items about Israel on the nightly news. Oz and Annika were asked how they “can play hockey in the desert,” and what it’s like to live through a war. One child even asked how it was that they were still alive. Now those young kids will tell their families and friends that they played hockey with two girls from Israel who listen to the same music and eat the same foods. They speak English (in addition to Hebrew and Arabic and, in Annika’s case, Dutch) and dress the same as the kids here.
Bring your hockey equipment with you on your next visit to Israel, and make plans to skate with our hockey friends from Kfar Giladi in our P2G partnership region.