The streets of West Hempstead were birthplace for a first-place team that’s the only all-Jewish squad in its collegiate roller hockey league.
That’s where Jesse Gordon, Avi Marguiles and Moshe Genuth — West Hempstead residents who attend Yeshiva University and play on its Maccabees — honed their skills.
At age 5 or 6, the boys took up the sport at the West Hempstead Police Athletic League rink on Hempstead Avenue, where they learned the basics. They also assembled on Berry Court, a dead-end street, and played pick-up games. “We used to organize people every Friday and Sunday,” said Gordon, 22, who is graduating in May and studying for the actuarial exam. “We’d have at least 10 to 15 guys come out.”
Their love of roller hockey, and their devotion to their Judaic studies, led them down the same path: They all attended the Davis Renov Shahler High School for Boys in Woodmere, and kept similar schedules so they could play roller and field hockey during their downtime.
Meanwhile, in the Five Towns, Mendy Duftler, of Cedarhurst, and Michael Fruchter, of Lawrence, were following a similar track — attending different high schools, but playing in the same hockey league as the boys from West Hempstead.
All five boys went to Yeshiva University, and eventually found one other. In 2015 they established the Maccabees at YU.
Easily winning games in Division IV of the National Collegiate Roller Hockey Association, they were soon invited to join the more competitive Division II.
“So many of us played together for so many years that we have a chemistry that doesn’t exist in other schools, because the students are from different places,” said Avi, the team’s co-founder.
That closeness gets the team through challenges other collegiate teams never face. As a squad of Orthodox Jews, they cannot play on Shabbat, which which means they play multiple games back-to-back on Sundays against teams that don’t endure that level of physical exertion.
“It sounds crazy because it is crazy,” said Avi. “When you sit on the bench before the third game, you’re drained, but … this is how it’s done because of the situation we’re in. We do whatever we have to do to play hockey.” Gordon said the league has been extremely accommodating to the team in arranging for its games to be played exclusively on Sundays.
Because the team isn’t college-sanctioned — it is considered a club at YU— it is not funded by the school and covers its own expenses. Before a Sunday game, team members drive their own cars to a hotel near the game site, putting four guys in each car and hotel room and dividing the room and gas tabs. They also have to pay for their own equipment — jerseys, helmets, skates, sticks, pucks and more — and plan in advance to ensure they have kosher meals.
Practice is complicated for the team since there aren’t any rinks near YU’s Washington Heights campus. “North Arlington, New Jersey, has the closest rink,” said Gordon. “We signed up for a recreational league there and play in that league. Sometimes we organize practices nearby at the high school gym around the corner.” The team practices, on average, twice a week, according to Gordon.
Elyashiv Gemara, who is an alumnus and volunteers his coaching time to the Maccabees, said that the team’s accountability for its finances is part of what makes it successful. “The guys feel that they’re responsible for the team, and they do it with little support,” said Gemara. “They want to show that this team is the real thing, and I think it’s helped contribute to our success overall.”
All of the challenges contribute to the team’s endurance and fortitude. “We’re not just here to play hockey, graduate and move on,” said Marguiles. “We’re trying to pave the way for future students who can’t play on Shabbat, or any other situation that they feel is holding them back. We’re trying to set a precedent here. We want it to become the norm.”
Rossana Weitekamp is editor of the Malverne-West Hempstead Herald, where a version of this story appeared.