Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Two of My Favorite Things

The Moroccan National Ice Hockey team (yup), based out of Montreal, brings together Jews and Arabs as part of one great hockey club.
“We are succeeding where politics have failed,” said the 48-year-old Mr. Mrini, who has lived in Montreal for 30 years. “We don’t have weapons, we have sweat. And whether your name is Eli or Mohammed doesn’t matter, you’re going to embrace after you score a goal.”

Sometimes, the notion takes some getting used to. Last fall, Mr. Mrini and Mr. Tawfiq were introduced to a potential recruit – Shlomo Levy, a Montrealer and member of the Israeli national hockey team.

As Mr. Levy stood in the foyer of a Montreal arena, his hockey bag thrown over his shoulder, he insisted on clearing the air. Yes, he was open to joining. But he wanted them to know: He was not only Jewish, but born in Israel.

Mr. Mrini and Mr. Tawfiq looked at him. Then they burst out laughing.

“Where’s the problem?” Mr. Mrini said. “Are you Moroccan or not?” (He is, through his Moroccan-born father.)

“We didn’t see a problem – on the contrary, at least he knows about international hockey,” said Mr. Tawfiq, 27. “It brings another level to our team.”

The players say their camaraderie reflects the relatively harmonious coexistence of Muslims and Jews in Morocco; they’re just extending it onto the ice in Montreal. For one, they respect one another’s religious observances. Practices are suspended during Ramadan, as they were during the recent Passover holiday; instead of fending off pucks, Adil El Farj, a Muslim goaltender and financial adviser in Montreal, fired off Happy Passover wishes to his Jewish teammates.

“This team is a nice lesson for the rest of the world,” said Patrick Harroch, who is Jewish and whose brother, Dave, just signed on as coach. “It shows the world that Arabs and Jews can get along through the beauty of sports. We have something in common that bonds us – the love of hockey.”

They're playing in the African Nations Cup this fall. Wish them luck!

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