Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Middle East peace on the ice

Hockey team brings Jewish, Muslim kids together

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For a lesson in how Jewish and Muslim people can get along, look to the children.

An Israeli team of 17 minor hockey players, aged 10 to 14, was in Winnipeg last week and, despite their religious differences, their only opposition was the team at the other end of the rink.

"It is very exciting," said Itamar Melzar, 10, from Metula, Israel, with the help of a translator. "There are so many opportunities for hockey here."

They are students of the Canada Israel Hockey School based in the northern Israeli city of Metula and, on Sunday, they faced off against the Corydon Comets Pewee A3 team.

The team consists of 12 Jewish and five Muslim children from the Galilee region, said Shelley Faintuch, community relations director for the Jewish Federation of Winnipeg.

"These kids wouldn't have an opportunity otherwise to play hockey together. They don't all live in the same town," she said. "The Muslim kids actually travel over two hours by car to get to the ice rink in Metula twice a month. It is an entire outing and it mobilizes the entire family."

Mike Mazeika, a Canadian, has been living and teaching hockey at the Metula school for 13 months.

"It is so rewarding," said Mazeika. "I'm actually getting emotional... some of these kids could barely skate five days ago and today they played so well."

DJ Schneeweiss, the Israeli consul general, flew in from Toronto to watch the students take on the local team on Sunday. He said bringing the students to Canada can educate Canadians about the culture of Israel that is often misinterpreted.

"It brings a young face of Israel into Canada and very completely human face," said Schneeweiss.

Schneeweiss said with conflict in the Middle East, playing hockey in Metula can be a healthy distraction.

"When you go into an area like that, it's all self-contained. It's sort of its own world. And I think that's probably a good thing; it allows them to sort of shut out what may be going on outside."

While in Winnipeg, the students played and practised their hockey skills for 90 minutes each morning. In the evenings, they participated in different Canadian activities such as bowling, curling and sledding before returning to their billet families.

Marla Vittera hosted the two youngest visitors, Amit Vinegrad, 11, and Itamar.

"It's been exhausting but very rewarding," said Vittera. "They have been doing so many things but they are enjoying themselves."

Vittera said they enjoy the basic Canadian food.

"I took the time and made a great spaghetti dinner and no response," said Vittera.

"I made chicken fingers and fries the next night and I'm a hero."

Itamar's favourite Canadian food on his visit has been pizza. While in Winnipeg, not only has his appetite improved, Itamar said his hockey skills have improved, too.

"They taught me a few new things that I didn't know before," said Itamar through his translator. "There a lot more opportunities here, so I feel that I am better."

Itamar's team is called the Macabi Young Metula.

By the end of the first period they were down 1-0 to the Comets. By the end of the second, it was 2-2. But in the third period, the Israeli team succumbed to the Comets 5-2.

It didn't matter to the fans though. The cheers were loud for every save and every goal.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition March 18, 2013 B1

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