For the first time in the history of the Maccabiah Games, women’s ice hockey is on the program, thanks in large part to the determination of one individual: Chelsey Goldberg.
Nine years after she first attempted to play alongside her twin brother, Chad, on the men’s hockey team, but was rebuffed, Goldberg succeeded in carving a path for women’s ice hockey at the “Jewish Olympics.”
“I’m so proud to be Jewish, and I think after seeing my twin brother compete in two games [in 2013 and 2017], and just hearing the experience he had and the stories he came home with, it’s a very special feeling being able to provide my religious background and my athletic background [to the Games],” Goldberg said at a panel prior to the opening ceremony.
Goldberg has already solidified herself as one of the preeminent Jewish female ice hockey players today. In 2020, she was elected to the Southern California Jewish Sports Hall of Fame, putting her alongside the likes of Hall of Fame pitcher Sandy Koufax, nine-time Olympic gold medalist Mark Spitz, and 2006 Olympic silver medal winner Sasha Cohen.
Alongside her prowess in the rink, Goldberg has also become an informal historian of sorts, tracking Jewish female Jewish hockey players from around the world. She even compiled an Excel spreadsheet of those players she comes across.
“I believe I’m going on 72 lines now,” Goldberg said, adding that she hopes to keep that number growing.
Seeking to finally make the women’s competition a reality, Goldberg contacted Devra Schorr, who serves as the ice hockey co-chair for Maccabi USA. Together, Goldberg said, they tag-teamed the project, raising awareness through social media and reaching out to any female Jewish ice hockey players they could find.
“The biggest difficulty was just the interest to start. That’s what I needed to prove to everyone, to showcase that there are enough female hockey players that can play,” Goldberg told The Times of Israel. “That’s why it’s been such a long process, because I need to show Maccabi that I could field at least three teams.”
Goldberg ultimately succeeded in forming three women’s ice hockey teams for these games, representing the US, Canada and Israel.
“The first step was getting enough interest, and once we could prove we had enough interest across the board, then it was easier to get hockey here,” Goldberg added.
Even men’s ice hockey has not always been part of the Games. In 2013, the year her brother first took to the ice in Israel, the sport had been reinstated after a 16-year hiatus. While finding ice in the desert would seem to be a Sisyphean effort, Goldberg says that Israel has stepped up their game when it comes to its ice hockey facilities.
“I’ve been super impressed so far,” Goldberg said. “The ice was fantastic, we all felt great, it looked like they had all the basics you need.” She even mentioned that the Pais Arena in Jerusalem reminded her of an NHL rink.
Goldberg said she was blown away by the positive response she’s received and the comradery that has been established between the players.
“I think that’s so powerful, and just being able to meet so many other Jewish athletes that are fighting for the same thing and have the same goal in mind, it’s just a surreal feeling,” she said.
Update: The Maccabi USA women’s ice hockey team won its first match against Israel, 11-0, on Wednesday. It will play Canada twice, on July 18 and 20, and will play Israel once more, on July 19. The final, which is likely to feature the American and Canadian teams, is set to take place on July 22 at 10 a.m. All the games are taking place at the Pais Arena in Jerusalem.
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