Celebrating the Jewish High Holidays in Israel With a Second Religion, Rangers Rooting

Ranger fans in Israel rooting hard. Duncan Keith motivated in Edmonton. Getting an early look at the West.

This week and next week mark the Jewish High Holy days of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur.

In Israel, they are observed by a group of hockey nuts who also boast a second "religion," in which they worship over a blue shirt called Ranger.

These are hockey cashews who re-define the word nut. Yet they love every precious minute of their ice passion.

For the past six years they have gathered in the Israeli city of Beit Shemesh rooting like crazy for the Blueshirts while rooting equally madly against the Islanders and Devils.

As the song goes, "You Call It Madness And I Call It Love."

Lenny Solomon, a 60-year-old rock musician originally from Kew Gardens, Queens, New York, helped launch this union of Israeli Rangers fans along with attorney Mark Tobin, who grew up in Great Neck, New York.

"We're just a bunch of middle-aged friends who root for the Rangers and just happen to live in the same (Israeli) city, Beit Shemesh," Tobin explained. 

"We wanted to have an outlet to talk about our favorite team and since there's no sports radio here, we are our own talk show."

Their dedication to hockey knows no bounds. Exhibit A is the fact that there's a seven-hour time difference between Beit Shemesh and Madison Square Garden. When a game starts at 7 p.m. at The Garden, it's 2 a.m. in Beit Shemesh.

"It means," said Solomon, "that if we want to watch the Rangers live on tv, we have to be up at two in the morning. Now that's devotion with a capital D."

Some, like Tobin, do it in pyjamas and others such as Daniel Arnheim -- of Denmark, of all places -- subscribe to NHL tv and watch replays in the morning. 

"Usually," added Arnheim, "I fast-forward."

These puck nuts began with five guys in search-of-a-Rangers-schmooze and the Blueshirt brigade grew from there.

"Our group got bigger by word of mouth," asserted Jon Brody, a 57-year-old actuary, originally from Plainview, Long Island. "All we wanted to do was schmooze about the Rangers and we kept adding more and more fans."

Tobin "Playoffs are a problem because it means we have to watch the games live. That means we have to stay up every other night and still try to function during the day at work."

The West Coast games form the beauty part.

"Those games from California and Vancouver we get here at four or five in the morning," noted Solomon, "so we get to watch them live in our Israeli morning."

To a man, they trace the roots of their Rangers rooting to childhood. 

"I was six years old and in kindergarten," recalled lawyer David Glatt, 53, "when I listened to Marv Albert do the play-by-play. Those were the days of the 1970's when the Rangers practiced in Long Beach.

"My father was a pediatrician to a number of Rangers families. Through these connections I met my heroes -- Brad Park, Walt Tkaczuk, Nickie Fotiu and others."

Tobin was at The Garden in June 1994 when the Blueshirts captured the Cup. He grew up with Bruce Fox, father of Rangers Norris Trophy-winner Adam Fox.

"My parents and Adam Fox's grandparents, Mel and Sally Fox, were good friends," Tobin remembered. "Mel would often give my dad extra tickets he had for the Rangers. We'd drive together from Little Neck to The Garden."

Solomon, 60, moved to Israel in 1996. He's old enough to remember the old MSG that was on Eighth Avenue between 49th and 50th Streets. It closed during the middle of the 1967-68 season.

"My father took me to one Rangers game a year, starting when I was six years old," said Solomon. "So, I was lucky to catch a game at the old Garden. That's when I became a devoted Rangers fan."

Shem-Tov Shapiro, a 58-year-old computer programmer, remembered having green seats for half of the 1988-89 season. "I made my fiancee come with me to the games."

Solomon: "I was lucky enough to be at Game Four of the Rangers-Flyers series in 1974. It was the semi-final when Rod Gilbert scored the winner in overtime. It was great!"

Their passion was evident with each telling of tales and grew in intensity when I brought up a couple of delicate subjects -- the Islanders and Devils.

It suddenly dawned on me that this dedicated group of hockey aficionados

could double its size by turning ecumenical.

So, I asked the question: what about the possibility of expanding this Rangers-oriented NHL schmoozing to Israeli-based fans of the Isles and Devs?

Solomon said, "No problem." 

The other guys said, "Big problem"

David Glatt spoke for the loyal opposition: "If that ever happened, I'd leave and start a new group!"

Which proves that whether in The Big Apple or Little Israel, Rangers fans are ninety-nine and forty-four one hundred percent loyal to the blue shirt.

In that respect, they're kosher!


THE JIVE: Edmonton's sagacious coach offered a few interesting tidbits to Sportnet's Mark Spector.

The Oilers mentor points out that getting into the playoffs is all well and good but this season the trick will be to get out of the first round. 

With the adds of Zach Hyman, Warren Foegele and Derek Ryan, he has the goods to do a bit better than last year but how much better is the question. "A team has to make changes in the playoffs," Dave explained. "Some of it is reffing. Teams tighten up and there aren't as many power plays."

Perhaps it's too early to look so far ahead but as far as the present is concerned, Tippett is delighted with what he sees in veteran D-man Duncan Keith. "He's the most motivated player I've seen." the coach concluded.


THE JIVE: TFR's Seattle correspondent, Glenn Dreyfuss, sizes up the Kraken against their division foes. As financial advisors tell us, past performance is no guarantee of future results. Still, the expansion Seattle Kraken have to be encouraged when they review their prospects in the reconstituted Pacific division. 

Even with Arizona jumping to the Central to accommodate them, just two of Seattle's seven division-mates earned playoff berths in 2020-21. Only presumptive division favorite Vegas made it as far as the semi-finals, while Edmonton lasted one round. Half of last year's bottom eight teams - Vancouver, L.A., Anaheim and San Jose - now reside in the new Pacific. Keep in mind that this season, teams will play about one-third of their 82-game schedule against division opponents.

The Golden Knights and their top-flight defense figure to again be the class of the division, as long as goalie Robin Lehner can meet expectations in the post-Marc-Andre Fleury era. Speaking of goalies, the Oilers' Mike Smith will turn 40 next March, but mustn't fade if top forwards Connor McDavid, Leon Draisaitl, and free-agent newcomer Zach Hyman hope to chase down the Golden Knights.

Seattle's strength appears to be goal-prevention, anchored by former Colorado ace netminder Philipp Grubauer. Calgary captain Mark Giordano was signed to lead the Kraken backline – in the process, weakening the division rival Flames, who may spend the season seeking an identity under coach Darryl Sutter. 

A three-hour drive north of Seattle, Vancouver is hoping the addition of defenseman Oliver Ekman-Larsson will help plug the league's most porous defense. Escaping last year’s ravaging effects of COVID-19 would help the Canucks, too. As for the California contingent: the Kings will go as far as a group of talented prospects takes them; the crumbling Sharks likely need a rebuild before they regain their bite; and in the cellar, the Ducks won't even have a Cup-window to look out of.