When you think of sports in the Middle East, hockey probably doesn't come to mind.
But with more than a million Russian immigrants in Israel, the village of Metulah has become a surprising epicenter for ice hockey in the Jewish democratic state. Located on the border with Lebanon, Jews from Canada spent millions of dollars to build Israel's only regulation hockey rink.
Some teams travel more than three hours by bus to play games. The hills around the arena located between Lebanon and Syria's Golan Heights feature barbed wire and tank patrols, yet the small apple-growing village of fewer than 2,000 inhabitants doubles in size during large hockey tournaments.
The Wall Street Journal reports the religious skaters rarely keep score as they travel around the ice with yarmulkes tucked under helmets. A few even sport payot, or side curls, drifting in the cool rink air.
Residents from the True North Strong and Free are largely to thank. The Canadians have donated all kinds of equipment, from uniforms to a used Zamboni to keep the ice smooth. Air Canada donated cargo space to bring the ice tractor to the town situated not far from the Mediterranean.
Under Rabbinical law, Orthodox Jews can't drive or be on ice skates by sunset Friday evening. So nearly 700 Orthodox and non-Orthodox hockey players have signed up for the league's Thursday night pick-up games, according to the Journal.
The sport is so popular, a second hockey rink is being built in a town in Israel's far southern region. Dr. Leonard Silverberg, a Canadian-born dentist, is behind the new $5 million skating center. The 68-year-old, who has experience running hockey rinks in Southern California, believes he will easily get 5,000 kids a week to play the sport.
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