Jewish professional athletes, especially Orthodox ones, may face stiff challenges breaking in, but they sure do get noticed fast.
Exhibit A: Benjamin Rubin. The 17-year-old just made it onto a hockey team in a Canadian minor league that most Americans have never heard of. But two months in and Rubin’s already got speaking engagements in New York. During his week off for Christmas, on Friday morning, December 22, Rubin made his debut appearance — at an assembly after the morning prayers at Manhattan Day School, the first in a long weekend of engagements.
The Orthodox elementary school students in the library/prayer hall were climbing over themselves to ask questions, and the first queries were clearly seeking stardom. One kid eagerly asked how many goals Rubin averages each game. Rubin, a demure teenager who wore a pink button-down shirt, quietly said that in the 16 games to date he had scored twice. “It’s a developmental year,” he explained, attempting to soften the disappointment.
Rubin, an Orthodox, Sabbath-observant Jew, has risen to the most prolific feeder league for the National Hockey League, despite being able to practice only six days each week. The Quebec Remparts, which Rubin joined this fall, compete in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League — breeding ground for many of history’s hockey legends. Rubin, who grew up attending Montreal’s Jewish day schools, is the only Orthodox Jew to have made it this far in hockey, and it has happened only because his coach — former star NHL goalie Patrick Roy — has allowed him to skip the Friday night games.
In addition to the strains of his odd schedule, Rubin now has the weight of the Orthodox community resting on his shoulders. “He’s under so much pressure right now,” said Dave Stern, a parent at Manhattan Day School and a hockey coach who arranged Rubin’s visit. “The pressure is largely from the Jewish community. From us. We want him to succeed. It’s not easy.”
The New York Ice Cats, a youth league for Orthodox kids that is organized by Stern, invited Rubin to New York. He was set to speak at three synagogues Saturday, and then take part in two hockey exhibitions Saturday night and Sunday morning, before appearing again before the high school boys at Yeshiva University.
Despite the odds against an NHL career, Rubin clearly has not given up any of his big dreams. He and his little brother have looked through the schedules of every NHL hockey team and calculated which one had the fewest Friday night games (the answer: Phoenix Coyotes).
The boys at Manhattan Day School realized that they did not have the next Wayne Gretzky on their hands. They graciously asked how Rubin splits his athletic and religious interests, and then they arrived at the most important question: “Have you ever been in a hockey fight?”
“I got him good.” Rubin said of his first bout with an experienced fighter.
Fumbling for cover, the school principal told the boys, “It’s like a Roman gladiatorial contest.” Thinking more biblically, someone farther back chimed in, “like Samson.”
This story "Hat Trick: Two Goals and a Speaking Tour" was written by Nathaniel Popper.