Thursday, July 19, 2012

When Hockey is the Oneg Shabbat

I GREW UP IN DETROIT, MICHIGAN and we are really big hockey fans there. We love our hockey more than we love many other things. I have often joke that I have two religions: Judaism and Hockey.

Since moving to Syosset, New York to serve as an assistant rabbi, I've learned that New Yorkers are big hockey fans too. We can cheer on either the Rangers or the Islanders. We enjoy their incredible legacies of success. We also have an incredible group of Jews who truly revel in being Jewish and connecting with other Jews. I saw a natural entry to bring people together.

Early on I began to hear from countless people that we should play some hockey, but we all know how the time gets away from us and we fail to put these projects together. This year however I said it was now or never, and so we have created the MHL, Midway Hockey League. Each Shabbat we gather in our parking lot and turn some tables on their sides to create a street hockey rink. We have had as many as 10 people (a minyan!) playing at once. Ranging from teens to parents of college-age kids, we have begun to attract a fan base and they are becoming loyal enough to show up in the heat.

But there is something funny happening. I am constantly being asked how this is possible. I am being asked how we can play hockey on Shabbat. And I want to share not only why it is permissible, but why it is important and crucial to do it. Shabbat is more than a day to come to shul and communicate with God and our community. It is more than a dinner of chicken and soup. It is more than challah and it is more than taking a nap. Shabbat is a taste of olam haba, the world to come, and it is something that more Jews can see the beauties of.

I realize that it is not a very compelling case for Shabbat to simply sell it as a day in services. I realize this because it is not what gets people into Shabbat... Shabbat is compelling because it is a day where a person gets the opportunity to look back and look ahead. It is a day when a person gets to reconnect with people and God. And it is a day when a person gets to stop creating and begin appreciating all that is around us.

The prohibitions of Shabbat are only 50% of the observance of Shabbat. When a person refrains from doing the prohibited acts of labor they are halfway there, but what of the positive? What of the pleasure? To begin lets understand the prohibitions of Shabbat. There are 39 categories of prohibited acts of labor on Shabbat. Those acts are all derived from the various activities that went into the construction of the mishkan/tabernacle in the wilderness.

Those 39 acts of labor are all creative acts. They are acts that manage to change the world in a way... that bring about something new that might not have existed beforehand. We refrain from those acts because we need to spend one day content that the world that we inherited is good enough without us adding to it. We need to accept that our role is to sometimes put our egos to the side and rest knowing the world will keep rotating without our creating new things. Not one of the 39 says hockey is forbidden.

There is no prohibition against physical strain, against shooting a ball on net, against wearing skates or anything else. There are two issues that are already resolved. One of the acts of labor is to not carry from one domain to another. From private to public or other combinations. I could carry my Hockey stick from my house and thus break Shabbat. However, I leave it at the synagogue before Shabbat. But this is a moot point because we live within an eruv in our community and the eruv was a rabbinic method to prevent people from feeling trapped at home on Shabbat and allow for them to carry things out of their houses. This was extremely important to women who were left at home to care for kids. Without an eruv they would never leave.

The other legitimate issue about hockey and Shabbat is the risk of something needing repair. We are not allowed to repair things on Shabbat and so we should really stay away from doing things that could put us into a situation that would lead us to repair something. Rollerblades do need maintenance, but you could argue that this is not "fixing" anything at all. However, this is also a moot point as we do not really permit any types of repairs of our equipment at our games.

People want to paint Shabbat as some ancient archaic practice that chains us to not using modern day conveniences. I feel bad for those people because they will need to remain on the periphery while those of us in the game of Shabbat will enjoy our relationships with God and our fellow people which we nurture and strengthen on Shabbat.

Our Shabbat hockey game has become a social outing for kids and adults alike. People bring their kids and the kids bring their own skates and sticks and shoot around on an extra net. The kids visit our nursery school playground and play. Our adults socialize and cheer us on.

 The whole experience really is the ultimate Shabbat experience. We might not pray and we might not have challah and wine... But we bring to life the greatest goal of Shabbat: "Oneg" (delight). We end each game by wishing one another a "Shabbat Shalom" and mention seeing each other the next Shabbat. This is in an essence the reason why I think we must do this. I think this is what makes Shabbat here a piece of the world to come!

Rabbi Josh Hearshen is a rabbi in Syosset, New York. Follow him on Twitter at @RabbiHearshen.