What’s the Jewish Equivalent of a Jamaican Bobsledder? Maybe an Israeli Curler.
Hoping to compete at the 2018 Winter Games in South Korea, Israeli recruiters are looking for North American curlers to join the team
Last fall, when Lutz noticed posts on his Twitter feed congratulating Israel on rejoining the WCF, he decided to revisit the idea—in part because, at 29, he believes he’d be exempted from any military obligations if he qualified for an Israeli squad. Sochi was obviously out of the question, but if Israel can successfully form a team by May, the country’s curlers could be squaring off against Iceland, Luxembourg, Serbia, and other Group C countries as soon as October, at the 2014 European Curling Championships—a necessary first step on the path to qualifying for the 2018 Winter Games.
With the ICF’s development director, Simon Pack, Lutz helped organize the North American recruiting tour at curling clubs in Boston, Chicago, New York, and two cities in southwestern Ontario: Windsor and nearby Leamington. These places are not exactly hotbeds of curling, let alone Jewish curling. And turnout at several of the clubs, including at Broomstones, was sparse. Pack, who holds a PhD in sports management and works for the Municipal Sports Authority of Jerusalem, said the cities were chosen based on where people showed the most interest but added that he hopes to soon visit more clubs in Canada, Wisconsin, and Minnesota.
Pack himself is new to curling, as is his colleague Sharon Cohen, the ICF’s chief executive. At the recruiting event in Boston last week, Cohen videotaped Davis and the other curlers who turned up and plans to send the footage to more knowledgeable coaches, who can help pick promising candidates. Pack concedes it’s not exactly a rigorous tryout process but said the ICF has to start somewhere. The recruiting tour is in many ways just a grassroots awareness-raising effort for the ICF—but Pack said he’s serious about trying to compete. “The goal, for sure, is to get at least a men’s team together to compete in the Euro C tournament,” he said.
There are some examples from which the ICF can draw inspiration—and caution—as it looks to compete internationally. In 2009, Brazil challenged the United States for a spot at the men’s world curling championships. The stronger American team summarily beat the South American squad in the three-game match-up: 13-2, 13-2, 11-5. That doesn’t bode well for Israel’s chances against the curling heavyweights of the world. But last year, a team from Hungary—a country not known for its curling prowess and one that’s relatively new to the sport—took home the gold at the annual world championship for mixed doubles curling, a form of the sport that some are now lobbying to make an Olympic event.
Yet finding any four people who have the curling talent to win on a global level would be hard under any circumstances. Finding four people like that who are also Jewish and willing to make aliyah could be near impossible.
Kyle Doering is probably the most accomplished up-and-coming Jewish curler in the world. The 18-year-old from the West Kildonan Curling Club in Winnipeg won the Optimist Under-18 International Curling Championships the last two years in a row, and his team came third at the 2012 Canadian Junior Curling Championships. Doering’s mother Bonnie is Jewish, he went to Jewish elementary school, and he dreams of visiting Israel one day. A freshman business student at the University of Winnipeg, he said curling could be his ticket to the Holy Land. “If I had an offer from the Israeli team I’d definitely consider it,” he said in an interview.
But, as with Lutz and other prospects, the possibility of having to fulfill military service obligations remains a major stumbling block. “That would be the deal-breaker,” Doering said. Pack said that young athletes can usually defer service, but rarely get out of it entirely. “From an ideological stance, I don’t want someone to get Israeli citizenship just to curl,” he said.
Despite the odds, Terry Braunstein, now 74 and serving as an unofficial adviser to the ICF, remains optimistic about Israel’s chances. “I think it would be quite possible that, if they found four really good curlers who have the basic abilities to begin with, they could qualify,” he said. “They’d have to work at it, there’s no question about it, but I think there are ways they could do it.”
Lutz agrees. “There’s a real chance here—and I know I’ve heard the Jamaican bobsled reference before,” he said, alluding to the comically bad bobsledding team made famous by the 1993 film Cool Runnings. With an Israeli curling squad, he went on, “If you get the right people there, they could turn some heads.”
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Gigi and Luca Becker and Eliana Gropman—day-school classmates—took top novice medals at this year’s U.S. championships