The Continental Airline plane touched down at twelve o’clock local time. He stepped off the plane tired from jet-lag and into a foreign land. Deserts as far as the eye can see, guards visibly armed with automatic rifles, and tanks coming through town the small town frequently. That is a lot to endure for an average sized white boy from Philadelphia. He wonders what he got himself into; he isn’t in the army, he isn’t in the Peace Corps, he is just a hockey player.
Eric Tufman participated in the World Jewish Ice Hockey Championships over the summer. It takes place every two years in Metulla, Israel. Teams from five nations participate in the round robin tournament. ( USA, Russia, Canada, Israel, and France) The qualifications for participating in the tournament are be a good hockey player and be a percentage Jewish. When asked how he was recruited for the team Tufman said, “Wayne Sellers the general manager of the US team called UMass Boston head coach Peter Belisle about me, then coach contacted me to see if I wanted to play for the team. “ After talking with Sellers, Tufman decided to play. “Sellers told me that the whole tournament was paid for, I wouldn’t have to pay a dime, plus the competition at the tournament would be good.” Many pro players that are Jewish take part in the tournament; Tufman was one of the few players that played college hockey in the tournament. “The competition was great. I wouldn’t have guessed there were so many good Jewish hockey players.”
The US team breezed through the round robin going undefeated. “The round robin was grueling, we had games five days in a row,” said Tufman. Despite the tough schedule the US made the best of it. They had France in the semifinals. They took care of a weak French squad by the score of 6-2. The only hurdle standing in the way of a gold medal was Canada. In the championship game the US team took it to Canada winning the gold medal by the score of 6-0.
When asked about the differences between the United States and Israel Tufman said,” The differences are night and day.” At the rink soldiers were stationed at all entrances with automatic weapons, as an American citizen it’s weird to see automatic weapons in public without a hefty jail sentence accompanying it. Tanks would frequently roll through the small town. Metulla had one dirt road in and out of the town; the road is so narrow it would be tough for a regular sized car to fit through. There were areas of the town that were forbidden to walk through, due to the mine fields set down by soldiers. Tufman was told by residents that a few drunk people a year are killed walking through the mine fields. He also noted that there was an unusual amount of stray cats and dogs running around the town. When asked about the food served Tufman noted that everything was kosher and players were forbidden to eat anything not kosher. That was a problem for Tufman who admits openly that he isn’t the best at following Jewish traditions. “Our whole team was starving the food was bad, we couldn’t mix meat and dairy together, that threw us off guard,” Tufman said.
Looking back at the tournament Tufman is glad he went,” I was able to meet a ton of people, got to see another country that I probably would not have seen otherwise, and I was able to experience a different culture.” Tufman left Israel with great memories and a sense of pride being able to represent his country; to go along with the gold medal he won and the two team USA jerseys hanging on his apartment wall.