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Monday, May 27, 2024

Spiritual Victory on the Rink: YU Roller Hockey’s Kiddush Hashem

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By: Marvin A. Azrak

The buzzer ended Yeshiva University Roller Hockey’s 12-5 victory over Syracuse University. As the teams shook hands and left the rink, star forward Sol Feder noticed the name “Cohen” on the back of an Orange Jersey. He asked, “Are you Jewish?” Daniel Cohen followed Feder to the Maccabees’ locker room to fulfill a lifelong dream. Cohen didn’t have an official bar mitzvah and never put on tefillin. With Feder’s guidance, the 21-year-old spiritually became a man on Sunday. The talet was draped around his jersey, tefillin shel Yad was wrapped around his left arm, and the shel Rosh was on his head, as well as a kippah from Ariel Greenberg.

He put three fingers over his eyes and repeated the first pasuk of shemah after Feder. The Macs erupted in cheers, forming into a dance circle. It was a moment nobody in that room will ever forget. The video of the Kiddush Hashem, badly needed during this time of strife for Israel, quickly spread on social media through the Jewish and hockey communities’ social media channels. “Baruch Hashem,” quipped “Sens Talk” on X, a popular YouTube channel that covers the NHL’s Ottawa Senators.

“I love this so much”, said @arielaaron555 added on X. “It Made me cry a bit; I don’t even know why, lol. With everything happening, this is amazing.

“BH, the joy of doing the mitzvah brings everything to a higher paradigm. May they merit yet to sing Na Nach Nachma Nachman MayUman by the holy tzion. NNNNM”, @naanaach said. “The antisemites must hate that the fact Jewish spirits cannot be broken,” @ba19974 said. “Israel will prevail in its battle against the tyranny that Hamas is, and the world will be a better place for Israel having achieved their goal.”

The Yeshiva University Roller Hockey team poses for a photo with Dan Cohen after he put on tefillin for the first time. (@solfeder33 on Instagram)

The Macs had their tefillin at the rink because they had 4 D3 roller games in Pennsylvania on Sunday, starting at 7 a.m. They defeated 5th-ranked Oswego 6-2 and pounded Syracuse 12-5 in a game where they were up 11-1 through 2 periods. They demolished RIT 13-2. Then came the real test against a team as good as them in top-ranked Montclair ST. The Macs won 8-5 to complete the foursome sweep and move to 6-1 on the season.

These boys got to the elite eight last year in nationals. They’re looking to go further this year. That said, the biggest triumph of the day was that moment in the locker room. “It was great to go 4-0, but none of those wins compare to getting the privilege to give Dan Cohen his first opportunity to put on Tefflilan”, Feder said on Instagram. “Everyone saw the video, but what you didn’t see was a Syracuse mom conflicted on who to root for because they were inspired by a Yeshiva team being out there. We are honored we get to do this”, Feder told TJV.

Sol is in his first year at YU and has driven hockey forward. With his father, Wayne, and friends’ unwavering support, they’ve brought an ice hockey team to Yeshiva University. The Macs will be in the ACHA M3 league and the Northeast Division along with Merchant Marine, SIT(Stevens Institute of Technology), SUNY Maritime College, Sacred Heart, NJIT(New Jersey Institute of Tech), and ST Thomas.

It’s an exciting endeavor, and Sol can’t wait to see it take off.

“We know we’re going to stink the first couple of seasons and are mentally prepared for that,” he joked.  However, as Sol wisely noted, even the YU Roller Hockey team started slowly and became an NCRHA title contender. The dream is to replicate that success in ice hockey.

Feder’s journey from Maimonides School to Yeshiva University is like something out of a sports movie – the one with a twist of Torah and a dash of ice.

Sol, a Brookline, Massachusetts native, honed his skills on a friend’s backyard rink and was determined to make his mark in the world of pucks and goals. Even as a kid, he knew that hockey was his calling.

However, being a Jewish hockey player isn’t always a smooth skate, thanks to game schedules conflicting with Shabbat. Sol faced these hurdles head-on, even switching his game schedules to ensure he could play without compromising his faith, “I would make all these Select teams as a player or goalie, but when coaches found out I couldn’t play on Shabbat, they said no to me.” Feder told themarvzone.com.

Sol’s dedication to the game was unwavering, and he appreciated the support of his parents, who willingly woke up at 6 a.m. to drive him to practice, playing a significant role. “I get to go play hockey! It was never, ‘I can’t believe I have to go.’ I couldn’t wait to get out there,” he told Jewish Boston in 2022.

“I wasn’t afraid to wear my yarmulke and whatnot in a locker room. Some people have never seen one, and they’re like, ‘What is that on your head?’ And you explain it, and it’s an interesting feeling.”

The young skater’s journey took a surprising turn when Maimonides High School didn’t have a hockey team. Then, the heavens – or rather, his athletic director – smiled upon him.

On December 21st, 2019, at 4:24 p.m., the offer came: Beaver Country Day School needed players for their hockey team. They wanted to merge with Maimonides. Sol jumped at the opportunity like a slapshot to the net. “I’ve never said yes to anything so fast,” he said.

They may not have been the best team out there, playing more like a JV squad in a varsity league. Yet Sol was grateful to play competitive hockey alongside Areiel Greenberg, his YU linemate in roller and ice hockey. Together, they dominated the scoring charts, each boasting around 40 points.

While studying for two years In Israel, Sol donned jerseys for various teams, from the Jerusalem Bears and HC Tel Aviv(Twice), which he called the “old-man league with guys from Europe,” to the more intense Petakh Tikvah Wings of the Israel National League.

This past summer, the 21-year-old took his passion for the game to the next level. Sol coached youth hockey, spent his third season as a counselor at the Warrior Ice Arena’s Bruins Junior camp, and became the strength and conditioning coach for Boston University’s Men’s and Women’s D1 ice hockey programs and alums. Years of working out with his trainer came to fruition, proving that training off the ice can be as crucial as mastering those dangles.

Despite all these experiences, Sol has turned his focus to leading the YU Roller Hockey team to its first-ever national championship. “We have a very talented team with a chance to do something special,” he emphasized. Sol has been a standout, scoring 11 goals and contributing 14 points. He even came up with a defensive scheme to help keep a Montclair ST offense led by superstar Eddie Dahdah at bay.

Leading the team on and off the rink is Yoni Drazin, who serves as the team’s captain and has tallied 10 goals and 28 points in 7 NCRHA games. He just reached 100 points for his NCRHA career.

In a game against Stony Brook on October 29th, Yeshiva rallied from a 3-0 deficit largely thanks to Drazin’s inspirational first-period speech, which led to his goal and a four-point night.

The game-winner to clinch the 5-4 win was scored by Gabriel Rosenblatt, who’s earned the nickname “Big game Gabe” from his teammates. Tied for the lead in YU scoring is Canadian Benji Froom, who has eleven goals and 26 points thus far, including a hat trick in the win against Montclair ST. Tied with Froom is alternate captain Zach Levy, who’s been a dual threat at both ends of the rink.

On defense, the fortress is led by veterans like Donny Fuchs and stalwarts like Eitan Levy, Yoniah Suissa, Avraham Gellman, and Eli Spinowitz. Backstopping them in goal is Micheal Mintz, who the team says is their most “Dialed in” player.

When Mintz needs a breather, Joshua Lieberman is called upon. The brilliance is orchestrated behind the bench by Ari Minsky. Before each game, the boys constantly remind themselves who they’re representing. “We take pride, knowing we don’t only represent Yeshiva University but the Jewish nation,” Drazin said.

On Sunday, they did just that, leaving a lasting impact on everyone who witnessed their commitment to their faith and love for the game.

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