Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Choosing my religion: Jets or Passover seder

Will Winnipeg make it to the promised land?

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If you scour all 40 chapters of the book of Exodus, you won't find a single passage pertaining to icing the puck, going offside or causing a delay of game.

Yet for Jews living in Winnipeg, the story of Moses leading Israelites out of bondage in ancient Egypt has become synonymous with the struggle of the NHL Jets, another group of long-suffering long shots striving to reach a promised land.

Tonight is the second night of Passover, when Jews living outside of Israel will hold the second of two seders, ritual meals that involve a lot of storytelling, a fair amount of singing and a tremendous amount of food.

Tonight also marks an NHL Southeast Division matchup in Raleigh, N.C., between the first-place Winnipeg Jets and the second-place Carolina Hurricanes.

The seder traditionally begins just before sundown. The NHL game starts at 6 p.m., Winnipeg time. And although it might sound crass, the simultaneous occurrence of the big game and the big holiday will create conflict in many Jewish households.

To most Jews, even those of a secular ilk, the Passover seder is the most important family gathering of the year. A seder can go on for hours, fuelled by the length of time it takes to retell the Exodus story, scarf down gefilte fish and kugel and guzzle a minimum of four glasses of wine.

Yes, guests at the seder table are supposed to get at least mildly intoxicated, if they're following the rules. How this has not made Passover the most popular holiday among all Canadians is unclear.

But all that alcohol and all that food tends to put seder participants in a relaxed and festive mood -- until, of course, the question of whether to watch the hockey game rears its ugly head.

Given the way the lunar Hebrew calendar tends to line up with the solar Gregorian calendar, Passover usually takes place in mid-April. In the 1980s, that meant one if not both seders coincided with the NHL playoffs, which invariably pitted a pretty good Jets squad led by Dale Hawerchuk against an even better Edmonton Oilers lineup featuring Wayne Gretzky, Mark Messier and Jari Kurri.

Assuming you've never been to a Passover seder, the ritual meal is broken up into two parts. There are two cups of wine, a lot of storytelling and some songs before dinner, then two more cups of wine, a bit more storytelling and way more songs afterward.

In the 1980s, when there was no such thing as a PVR, the pressure in many a Winnipeg Jewish household would be to finish the seder meal before the puck drops or, if not, by the end of the first period. And once the game was on, good luck getting many a semi-inebriated adult back to the table to finish the seder proceedings.

Sure, 3,300 years of tradition are important. But hockey is a religion of another sort in Winnipeg, both back in the days of Hawerchuk and also during the era of the new Jets.

According to Exodus, the ancient Israelites wandered around the Sinai desert for 40 years. Winnipeg hockey fans spent 15 years in a desert of their own, waiting to once again live in an NHL city.

The Israelites were led out of Egypt by Moses, who parted the Red Sea and received 10 commandments from a higher power. Winnipeg hockey fans have Mark Chipman, who calmed the waters of the NHL board of governors and received a blessing from an even more powerful deity, Gary Bettman.

Moses never got to see the promised land, punished as he was for killing a man during his youth. Ondrej Pavelec has yet to see the NHL playoffs, possibly by offending the hockey gods in some manner.

Beating Carolina tonight would go a long way in propelling the Jets toward the playoffs this year. But any Winnipegger who sneaks away from the seder table to watch that game will incur the wrath of their family members.

On one hand, such a move could be considered offensive. But it can not quite be considered sacrilege in Winnipeg, where conflict between Passover and the NHL is part of the modern Jewish ethnocultural tradition.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition March 26, 2013 A2

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About Bartley Kives

Bartley Kives wants you to know his last name rhymes with Beavis, as in Beavis and Butthead. He aspires to match the wit, grace and intelligence of the 1990s cartoon series.

Bartley joined the Free Press in 1998 as a music critic. He spent the ensuing 7.5 years interviewing the likes of Neil Young and David Bowie and trying to stay out of trouble at the Winnipeg Folk Festival before deciding it was far more exciting to sit through zoning-variance appeals at city hall.

In 2006, Bartley followed Winnipeg Mayor Sam Katz from the music business into civic politics. He spent seven years covering city hall from a windowless basement office.

He is now reporter-at-large for the Free Press and also writes an outdoor-recreation column called Offroad for the Outdoors page.

A canoeist, backpacker and food geek, Bartley is fond of conventional and wilderness travel. He is the author of A Daytripper’s Guide to Manitoba: Exploring Canada’s Undiscovered Province, the only comprehensive travel guidebook for Manitoba – and a Canadian bestseller, to boot. He is also co-author of Stuck In The Middle: Dissenting Views of Winnipeg, a collaboration with photographer Bryan Scott and the winner of the 2014 Carol Shields Winnipeg Book Award.

Bartley’s work has also appeared on CBC Radio and Citytv as well as in publications such as The Guardian, explore magazine and National Geographic Traveler. He sits on the board of PEN Canada, which promotes freedom of expression.

Born in Winnipeg, he has an arts degree from the University of Winnipeg and a master’s degree in journalism from Ottawa’s Carleton University. He is the proud owner of a blender.

On Twitter: @bkives


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