Rink Man Sits One Out

Mazal Tov, or Something

By Nathaniel Popper

Published October 21, 2005, issue of October 21, 2005.
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After a players’ strike canceled the entirety of last year’s National Hockey League season, one would think that Jeff Halpern, captain of the Washington Capitals, would be itching for any excuse to hit the ice. But the desire to play hockey does not trump all. Halpern’s Jewish commitments were able to keep his athletic urges at bay — for one game, at least.

Last Wednesday night, Yom Kippur eve, Halpern sat out his team’s early season game against the Carolina Hurricanes — which the Capitals lost 7-2. Halpern, 29, said through a Capitals spokesman that his decision was private and that he did not want to talk about it publicly. The spokesman said that Halpern had missed practices on past Yom Kippurs and spent the holiday with his family. In a brief interview with The Washington Post last week, Halpern said, “I don’t think there’s any question about what I should do.” Halpern had consulted Brendan Witt, a teammate of his, before making his decision. “He was worried about how guys take it. I told him it’s just a hockey game. I think it would be worse if he didn’t take it.”

Hockey, unlike baseball or, say, the Nobel Prize dais, is not a venue in which Jews have had a steady presence. There are no Sandy Koufaxes or Hank Greenbergs for Jewish hockey fans to reminisce about. Cecil Hart, who coached the Montreal Canadiens to two Stanley Cup championships during the 1920s and 1930s, is just about the only Jewish figure of note in hockey history. Hart, who supposedly was descended from the first Jew to settle in Canada, later became the namesake for the trophy given to the NHL’s Most Valuable Player.

But as the sport has spread southward in recent years, those who play it have become more diverse. Today there are three active Jewish players in the National Hockey League, according to the Web site Jewishsports.com. There are many more in the minors. The three active players are no slouches: Halpern was the Capitals’ leading scorer last season; Mathieu Schneider, the top Jewish scorer in NHL history, is an all-star defenseman for the Detroit Red Wings. Perhaps more important for Jewish fans, Schneider, whose father was Jewish and mother converted, recently has grown much more interested in his religious roots. While Schneider, 36, didn’t have a game on Yom Kippur this year, in 2001 he sat out an exhibition game. He also has missed practices that fell on the High Holy Days. Schneider told The Orange County Register in 2001 that his wife had converted to Judaism recently and that the couple intended to raise their children to be Jewish.

Halpern, who was raised and bar mitzvahed in the suburbs of Washington, never has strayed far from his roots. After playing at Princeton for four years, he had offers from numerous professional teams. However, he decided on a contract with the Capitals so he could remain close to home.

Star gazers were left in the lurch a few weeks ago when word of Demi Moore and Ashton Kutcher’s Kabbalah-inflected nuptials first made news. Nobody would talk: not the stars’ people, not the guests, not even the Kabbalah Centre in Los Angeles. But now, thanks to the celebrity weekly OK!, readers will find enough wedding gossip to satisfy them through, well, at least the end of the week. In addition to a bevy of photos, the magazine’s 10-page “world exclusive” features everything from the menu (which, interestingly, was free of pork and shellfish), the clothes (he wore a cream-colored Brooks Brothers suit with a matching wide-brimmed Borsalino; she, a gown by Alber Elbaz and gray Stella McCartney shoes) and the flowers (she held a bouquet of stephanotis and phalaenopsis orchids). But most interesting of all are the details of the “pure Kabbalah” ceremony, which was presided over by the Kabbalah Centre’s Yehuda Berg: the chuppah, the wine, the seven circles, the breaking of the glass. The one word absent from the story? Jewish.

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