The problem: come up with a moneymaker to fill the synagogue’s coffers. The solution: a multifaith ice hockey league that brings in more than was bargained for.
The Steering Committee of Congregation Ezrat Hashem sat in the synagogue offices and contemplated the grim statistics. We could have gone forty feet further and sat in the social hall, but we didn’t want the facts from our treasurer to hang in the air over the meeting of the youth group or to fall on the bagels and cheese of the oneg on Shabbat. The treasurer had given us the numbers, all bad. “This can’t be fixed with a bake sale,” he said. “The big donors are tapped out.”
“We need money from outside the Congregation,” our president said.
“Money from outside?” Selma asked. “From where?”
“Could we do an art sale? There’s money in Gold Flume, lots of it, and…”
“The money in Gold Flume is spent on furnishing mansions,” I said, “and the art is bought when somebody predigests it for the customer.”
“We could have the pieces judged—an auction.”
Rafe and Don’s eyes met—I could see their “Who’ll tell her” look, and Don said, “We’re talking big money here.”
I went home and told Paul about it. “Remember how it was when we sold tickets to Rabbi’s discussions on ethics and the take was so pitiful?”
“That was our fault,” he said, “scheduling the discussions when the Broncos games were playing. What did you expect?”
“Religion should be more important than football. I was ashamed at the turnout. People need to realize what their priorities are.”
Paul patted my hand in a way I hate. “People vote with their feet,” he said. “More buns were on the Barcaloungers than were in the chairs for Rabbi’s lectures, and that’s that.”
“Are you telling me we should have the schedules of Broncos games in our hands when we plan synogogue events?”
“And Avalanche games,” he said, “and Nuggets games.”
“That’s undignified. It’s low class. It’s…”
“It’s a good idea,” he said.
“Next you’ll want to schedule the Jewish holidays.”
“I’m not telling you what should be; I’m telling you what is. Don’t you remember three years ago, when the last game of the World Series fell on Erev Rosh Hashana and the first big Broncos game on Yom Kippur? The women came, the men stayed home and watched the games.”
“Like it or not, we’re in America. We’re proud Americans. Proud Americans are found at sports events, or watching them.”
“Maybe we should make our congregation produce a ball team,” he said. We laughed.
Coincidence, as someone once said, is God protecting His anonymity.
Maureen Ivans was crying the blues at our local Tuesday book group. “The church is having to sell its land by the river.”
“But that’s terrible,” someone said. “We all use that walk.”
“We have to sell it,” Maureen said. “The church needs the money for all those lawsuits people are bringing. Father
Bob broke the news to us at Mass.”
“Do you think the town could buy it?”
“Not at a tenth of the price it can bring on the open market.”
I wanted to lighten things so I said, “Father Bob needs to get up a ball team and charge like they do at Broncos games.”
Mary Everett laughed at me. “What do you know about sports, Lily? You never even went to the games your kids played in school.”
“I don’t know about sports, but I know they’re popular enough to clog up the calendar for everything else. We Jews need to field a team, and so do you Catholics, and Betty Anne could get up another team for Community Christian. If we had teams we could sell tickets and people would come, people from town, tourists, others. How hard can sports be? You run around; there are rules, there’s a ball or something to hit and you have a goal to get to. You throw a ball and someone catches it and you hit it and run. The teams would wear helmets and heavy padding so no one would get hurt.”
They were staring at me over the tea set. “This isn’t Kabbala,” I said. “We figure out some game. It can’t be soccer, because in soccer, I heard, you have to hit the ball with your head.”
“Which sport?” Betty Anne was still laughing.
“Not football,” I said, “although football has things we should keep—cheerleaders, for example, and the halftime stuff.”
I had an inspiration. “Hockey,” I said. “Ice hockey.”
They were staring at me. Maureen opened her mouth, but I went on. “I know about hockey. They make you watch it before the regular sports news. Then they play it again after the report, when I’m piecing quilts and can’t change the station. The idea in hockey…”
“We know what the idea is,” Mary Everett said, “but hockey is one of the most dangerous—it’s savage.”
“That’s just the point,” I said. “We don’t need to be savage. As a religious event—well, church-run—we could be above all that. The game doesn’t seem very difficult, getting that little thing…”
“Yes, puck, into the net.”
“Lily,” Maureen was speaking in that patient voice I’ve heard from her before, “the TV only shows the scoring, or the special moves. I don’t think anyone would pay to see our church school kids playing hockey.”
“I didn’t mean for the games to be played by kids,” I said. “I meant it to be for people over fifty, and we’d really pad them for protection.”
“Who would pay to see a game like that—St. John’s Episcopal vs. Community Christian, Our Lady of the Grotto vs. Ezrat Hashem?”
“We all need the money. Who would watch? All the atheists, I guess.”
When the High Holy Days were over, Ezrat Hashem’s newsletter had the following:
Wanted: Twenty adult members to form a hockey team. Also needed, a trainer, equipment manager and coach. Gold Flume High School gym, Oct. 2, at 7:30 P.M. Also needed: 15-20 adult women as volunteers for cheerleading. Call: Lily Jacobson, 757-3066, or just show up.
The calls started immediately. Forty men wanted to try out for the team; thirty women called to be cheerleaders. Most of them asked first if the announcement was a joke.
When I said it wasn’t, I could hear the delight in their voices, the eagerness in their breathing. I presumed this was a Jewish phenomenon, men wanting to walk a few yards up the Road Not Taken, but when I showed up at the high school gym on October 2, I was amazed to see so many people. We had a time simply quieting them all.
“Will everyone from Our Lady please go over to where the mats are—and the Ezrat Hashem people, by that door.” I saw Paul, my own husband, standing with the group, but I was too flustered and surprised to do any more than a double take. “St. John’s there, Community Christian…” Slowly, the people separated and we explained what we wanted to do. I looked around as I spoke. Doc Friedman must be seventy, I thought, yet there he stood, with a smile on his face; Herbie, Don, all there at the door. Paul, smiling back at me. I thought he had come to see what was up until I saw the resolute look on his face. He gave me a “we’ll talk later” flip of the head and started to talk with Herbie.
I’ve never seen a group in this town decide anything so fast. Tryouts would determine the twenty-person teams by the end of October. Team practice would take place as soon as the Callan reservoir froze in late November. By that time, the double-padded uniforms should be ready for the exhibition game in the Aureole ice rink in March or April.
The women would meet in the gym—Jews on Monday, Catholics on Tuesday, Episcopalians on Wednesday and Community Christian on Thursday, all working around the regularly scheduled high school practices and games.
“Will we have to be on skates?” (“No.”)
“Little skirts?” (“The smallest.”)
“Pompoms?” (“Why not?”)
“Each team will elect its own coach and trainer. The money we take in will be equally divided. Competition will be determined by lot. Each team chooses its name.”
Just because I’m dead to spectator sports doesn’t mean I don’t sense their importance. On Broncos Sundays, the roads all over the state are empty enough to film a car commercial on.
St. John’s had its team name already: The Warhawks. The Catholics produced Our Lady’s Fireballs. The Community Christians called themselves The Holy Terrors. The Jews had problems. “Avalanche.” Taken. “Maccabees.” Taken. “Pillar of Fire.” A Christian denomination. “Gold Flume Gibborim.” Sounds like massed chimpanzees. “The Hashemites.” Taken, a Muslim dynasty. “Ezrat’s Hurricanes.” And so we were, at last.
The meeting began to break up. People were signing team lists.
Paul and I walked home in the first consciousness that the daylight was beginning to ration itself.
“I never imagined you would be interested in playing hockey,” I said.
“It was your idea, wasn’t it?”
“I never imagined half the town would go for it.”
He took a while to think. “You function a lot on your instincts, I’ve found, and your instincts always surprise me, Lily. I’ll be eliminated in the early playoffs. I’m in because of something I can’t explain, like the thing in your DNA that signals that you’ll grow hair in your ears, lose it from your head, that your legs’ll stiffen, your eyes will go farsighted. If I didn’t try, I’d be missing a key experience of this town’s history.”
“Then, why the others?”
“Look at us, all of us. We’ve all been jogging, running, stretching, eating this and not that, changing our diets with each quiver of the nutritional seismograph, taking fistfuls of vitamins, developing abs and biceps and doing aerobics and working out. For what? Supposedly to allow us an all but guaranteed longevity.
“Except that it doesn’t and it won’t and we know that so what do we do with all these fit, trained, dieted bodies? We go on an adolescent fantasy.”
“Don? Harry Plaut? Irwin Dieter?”
“Don had asthma as a kid and never played anything. I was a nerd. Sam and Irwin were nerds. Many of us were never on teams that actually played anything. Some of us want to prove all those vitamins and jogs up Prospector weren’t for nothing. I think the Catholic and Episcopalian and Community Christian guys are the same. I know Joe Grady used to play professional ball and lots of the others played in school. Is it gone? Is it all gone? Admit it, you’ve touched a button.”
“Will it provide light or blow fuses all over town?”
Ice time. I’d come to learn a whole new vocabulary, a world unknown to me. The ice arena at Aureole is in great demand, it seems, by little girls in tutus and figure skates, lovers out for the evening and kid hockey teams. I called the arena to set up a date only to learn that getting ice time there would be the hardest part of the whole plan.
“The ice on the reservoir goes unstable early in March,” a Fireball protested. “That leaves almost two months with no practice.”
“What exactly did the Aureole man tell you?” a Warhawk asked.
“The rink closes at 11:00 P.M. and opens at 6:00 A.M. There are a dozen kid skaters working out before school, serious kids training to compete. They come back at 3:00, and the time is booked up until 11:00.”
The Fireball said, “We practice out at the reservoir until the ice goes, after that, the arena will stay open for us.” I thought our project was ended. It wasn’t. Maureen took care of the uniforms and they were ready in three weeks. Paul had been working out religiously and was at the reservoir early every morning. It was dead winter by then and dark. When I went, half the town was there. Cars were parked all around the water, now bone to black ice, their lights on the area making it midday bright. I saw the Rudolphs’ kid going car to car, turning the motors on and off to charge the batteries.
For an hour I watched the Hurricanes playing against the Fireballs. Some of the players were obviously trying to re-create the speed and grace of their younger days. Others were working away with grunting, teeth-gritted incompetence.
I began to get depressed. After watching the magical moves of top-ranked teams on TV, who would pay a dime to see our arthritic Hurricanes locked in combat with Our Lady’s sexagenarians? What could I have been thinking? Boom! Two players collided, bounced off one another and landed asprawl. The game stopped while the coaches checked for injuries. Beside me, Maureen chuckled and said, “They made Les Misérables into a musical. You’re the first person to do a takeoff on our sports madness.”
“This wasn’t meant to be comic,” I said.
“Well, take a look. It’s hilarious.”
“The men will die if they hear themselves laughed at.”
“Maybe so, but by that time, they’ll have started a craze and everybody’ll—Oh, God, look—Our Lady’s lost the puck.” “They’ll improve.”
“If they improve, they’ll only be boring.”
I thought not. The passion was there.
Men had been moving on and off the ice almost continuously as I watched, but the twenty-minute break came and groups of women who had been sitting in cars came out and spread four large tarps over the ice at its corners. The Hurricanes were at the north edge and we went around to see them. The cheerleaders were holding ribbons. Then, they formed a Jewish star. The star began to spin as they turned and chanted:
Alef, bet, gimel, dalet,
Ezrat’s team is strong and solid.
Watch St. John explode and bust,
Watch Our Lady bite the dust.
Gold Flume Christian? Vi a krenk.
Hurricanes—Gott tzu dank’!
With each of these, they bent into a crouch, or as much of a crouch as nonathletic elders can achieve. When they stood up, we saw they had intertwined the ribbons and when they did, they leapt into the air, the ribbons forming an E and then an H. Mollie Levy came over as the others rolled up the tarp.
“What do you think?”
“Very spirited,” I said.
“We won’t be in uniform until we need to. The little skirts leave your legs frozen. We have a cheer with the pompoms for next break.”
The ice was cleared and the game started again. I didn’t stay for the next set. I was half frozen.
I got a call from the Aureole Arena manager: “You’ve got ice time 6 to 10 P.M., starting March 19. Wednesdays, the best I can do.” And he hung up before I could thank him. Later, I learned that Grady Clanton’s sister was married to the manager’s brother. Family harmony won out over crass materialism, as indeed it should.
Our kids and grandkids had looked on all of our exertions with condescending laughter or complete disinterest, but they and others from Callan and Bluebank came to the reservoir now and then to watch the practice. Someone had made us a Web site. Later, there was a reporter from the Ute River Voice and one from Denver’s Channel 4. What we were doing had spurred interest in congregations all over the Front Range. So, we weren’t surprised when a Denver congregation, Rodef Shulamit, challenged us. The Hurricanes would be doing an exhibition game, carefully scheduled by the challengers to avoid all Jewish and Christian holidays, all major public ones, all Broncos and Avalanche games. We would be in a modern arena, where the lighting was a lot better than that produced by the headlights of automobiles.
Through the summer, the team practiced in Aureole, driving fifty miles there and back three times a week. That winter was a hard one for the arteries of Ezrat Hashem’s team. Two of the players had bypasses, two more had to leave because even with all the padding, tendonitis, bursitis and arthritis took their toll, but the morale of the town’s males rose. Even though the sale of Viagra remained steady, the sales of Prozac fell so precipitously that scouts from the drug company were sent to find out why.
We fielded new players, including two Christians from Bluebank, to make up for the loss of our two top Jewish players, now in two ways bypassed.
The cheerleaders’ ranks were thinned, so I joined to fill an empty spot, working out every morning on the cheers and the moves. We had ribbons, batons, pompoms, big hair, big hats, and our little outfits had bust sizes well into the alphabet. By spring, I was more confident.
In April, the Hurricanes went down for the Denver exhibition game against Rodef Shulamit. Our hosts had us registered in a motel near the arena and astonished us with the news that the game was almost sold out.
“We couldn’t believe it,” our guide told us. “We put ads in all the papers and there were articles, of course, but we had no idea how popular the sport is, and teams like ours—even with all our relatives coming and all of yours, what would that number be? The nearest and dearest of 40 people might add up to 200. Even with all the Jewish congregations in Denver attending…”
“My husband says that there are adolescents lurking in all of us. They’re coming for simple, vicarious joy. I intend to give them the best I’ve got, to be in perfect step in the little white boots that kill my feet and the tights that ride up and the bra that cuts canyons under my right breast.”
By 4 P.M. that day, the powerful drugs of expectation were beginning to find their old pathways in us. Not since a delivery room long ago do I remember that combination of emotions, the butterfly stomach, the sudden swell of blood in the pulses. We polished and fussed with our hair and sewed rips on our uniforms and went restlessly from room to room collecting each other. The guys talked louder, laughed harder, talked strategy and then went silent. I saw Paul chewing his lower lip, which he does in tense moments. When I kissed him, he turned and gave me a long, passionate embrace. We sang in the van going to the arena. We made up limericks about Rodef Shulamit’s team and laughed louder than the wit deserved.
This wasn’t Denver’s big indoor stadium but an arena in a sports complex. Even so, when we went inside, we saw it was good-sized and the stands were already beginning to fill.
We had worked out a routine with the tarp we were to lay at mid-game, incorporating how we carried it out into a little act. I was making sure it was wrapped correctly, so the game had already started when I went out.
The guys had warmed up while we were dressing and I saw what a difference the self-made drugs of sport and combat bring to performance. They were whizzing around the ice, the names on their backs all but unreadable in the motion and speed they achieved.
Outside, in the ground breeze of early morning practices back in Gold Flume, I had missed the duck-quack sound of the striking of the sticks against the puck or against each other. Now they sounded like a flock of fowl as the men swooped and surged. The twelve men on the ice seemed to fill it, the forwards flashing over the blue line and back as the goalies cleared the puck from their respective zones. Three or four minutes later, our coach called a man off the ice and sent another in. Paul had fallen. He wasn’t as quick getting up as he might have been, and our coach took him out for a rest. He was sweating and he drank heavily from the bottle I passed to him, helmet off, panting. There came Sid, replaced. Penalty. I didn’t see it. Jules came off the ice.
Now that Paul was sitting, I began to look around at the people in the stands. Signals went up.
Looking over to the end of the arena opposite the scoreboards, I saw people I recognized, relations and friends. Rodef Shulamit’s supporters were laughing and cheering. They had children with them. At both long sides were people who didn’t cheer. I could see bottles of beer and booze being passed during the first period.
When it was time for the cheerleaders to slip away and get ready for their performance, I told them and then the coach what I had noticed. “These are odd people for this event.”
The coach said, “It shouldn’t matter to us who’s in the stands; we give it our all.” We did our good-luck huddle, lifted the tarp and went out onto the ice.
We had practiced getting out on the ice without slipping, but aside from some of the moves, this was the most difficult part of what we had to do.
We were rhythm-talking, like a rap, as we unrolled and set the tarp and then danced with our pompoms, batons and ribbons, made to appear from nowhere. This move had brought delighted cheers from the crowd at the reservoir, but this group had caught a chill from the weirdos on the long sides.
We did our routine, hampered, of course, by the fact that our jumps were modest and we could not perform splits or other moves that would harrow our arthritic joints. Our little skirts were mid-thigh, and our little blouses discreetly covered any flapping of our upper arms.
I had never recognized the relationship between performers and audience until that time. They were sitting on their hands. The reservoir audience had loved it, that sixty- or seventy-year-old cheerleaders could go out there dancing, twirling, kicking and even doing nip-ups. They were with us all the way. Their enthusiasm gave us energy we didn’t know we had. Now, we were pulling against a huge wall of disinterest or gloom or something we couldn’t overcome. The act ended.
And there it was: a hum, a mutter—out came the signs. There could have been no leader. We saw the signs and read them and tried to figure out what we had stirred up.
I must have been the first one—I was in the end position on the rolled-up tarp before we started a conga line step, one, two, three, kick. The sign was red, white and blue, so it caught my eye: AMERICA FOR ARYANS. By then there were others. L’CHAIM TO THE PEOPLE OF THE BOOK and the evocative if inchoate DOWN WITH THE HALOCAUSE. If I was dim about the message, the sign next to it set me straight: HOLLOCAUSE IS A JEW MYTH and then JEWS FOR JESUS and then JESUS FOR JEWS, and then I almost tripped, looking at SAVE THE JEW: BRING THE RAPTURE.
People were beginning to roar, and in the closed arena the sound was thunderous and frightening. We made the exit and began to run. Some of the women said they were leaving and urged me to come with them, but I needed to find out who was saying what. If things got bad, I wanted to be close to Paul and the other players, now vulnerable on their skates.
“Let’s get dressed,” I said, “and stash the tarp in the van. You can bring the van right up to the stage exit, ready for a getaway if we need it.”
Women on the other team and four of ours began. I dove out of my clothes like Superman, cursing the boots, and rushed back. Now, the signs were saying things like RIGHT TO LIFE. DEATH WITH DIGNITY. JESUS WAS A PRACTICING JEW. A WOMAN’S RIGHT TO CHOOSE and BACK TO THE BURKA. There was RE-TAKE JERUSALEM and FAMILY PURITY: STOP INTERMARRIAGE. There were signs for the Aryan nations and the Identity Church and signs that talked about how Jesus couldn’t come again without us.
As I looked on, the crowd was beginning to leave the stands and surge out on to the ice to attack one another. Signs were being used like hockey sticks, people were screaming. The players, having tried to be peacemakers, were now easy targets in their uniforms, and I saw them slowly making for the exits through the melee and disappearing into the locker room. That’s where I went, looking for Paul. He wasn’t there.
Now I was feeling panicky; I made a circuit at the outside of the ice, trying to keep out of the way of the crazed spectators while I looked into the crowd. All but obscured by the noise of the riot was the sound of police sirens keyed on high. The sound came like an emissary to still the melee before the cops arrived.
I retreated to the locker room and was amazed to see Paul and another man, an opponent from Rodef Shulamit. They were sprawled on the floor, gasping.
“Oh, my God—are you hurt?”
“Resting,” he said. “Can’t get up.”
“The uniforms,” he said.
His words made no sense.
“All winter, we practiced outside, in the cold.” He was gasping.
“I thought I would die there, in this uniform. All the padding and the Styrofoam made us all go into heatstroke.”
“You have to get up; the police are coming.”
“I don’t think I can make it.”
“Come on, I’ll help you. We’ll go get some water.”
“I can’t,” Rodef groaned. “I’m too old for this.”
Now that I knew they couldn’t move, I went down the hall on the far side of the lockers. There was a door there, which turned out to be a janitor’s closet. There, in its loveliness, was a scrub bucket, one of the big wheeled ones. I ran back to the locker room, wheeling it, filled it in the shower (drenching myself in the process), and then I went back and stripped as much of the men’s clothes as I could and poured the water over Paul and Rodef.
And so the police found us, a frantic woman and two nearly naked men, lying gratefully in a pool of water that she was soaking up in a T-shirt and wringing out over their heads.
Do you remember the story, probably apocryphal, about the meeting between Abraham Lincoln and Harriet Beecher Stowe? Lincoln is supposed to have said, “So you’re the little lady who started this big war.” They blamed me. The police required a statement. Paul and Rodef were taken to the hospital to be hydrated with IV’s. Six other players were there also, generating a big story in both local newspapers and someone said that I had instigated the whole thing.
Our lawyer, Arthur Kraznik, was on the team, so he recused himself. The six lawsuits filed against me and Ezrat Hashem are pending.
The fund-raiser was an immense success. We raised $10,000. It, and more, will be used for legal fees.
I suppose it’s back to bake sales.