An Israeli Curling Team? You Betcha!

jewish curlersBlaine, Minnesota has probably never been mentioned on TC Jewfolk. No offense to anyone from Blaine, but it does rhyme with plain.

I’m confident that more Jews were in Blaine a couple of weeks ago than at any one time in its 137 year history. That’s because the finest Jewish curlers from around North America descended on the Four Seasons Curling Club (FSCC) in an attempt to make the Israeli national curling team.

Yeah, you read that correctly – Jewish curlers.

Hey, if Jamaica can have a bobsled team, why can’t Israel have a curling team?  That’s the thought behind one of the quirkiest sports stories to ever hit Minnesota. So with no actual curling facilities (they use hockey or figure skating ice) and maybe 200 people who have ever thrown a rock, Israel is one of the last countries you would expect to field a team.

But, after a long hiatus, Israel has officially been reinstated into the World Curling Federation (WCF). Only one member nation didn’t vote in favor – Canada. Yeah, weird. If all goes well, Israel will compete in the European  “C” Group Championships in the Netherlands this fall.

So what does Blaine have to do with it? Well, the FSCC is one of the only curling clubs in North America that remains open year round. So the Israel Curling Federation spent the last few months scouring North American cities for Jewish curlers – and the best of the best showed up in Blaine this past weekend. They came from Toronto and Winnipeg, Seattle and Detroit, Boston and Montreal – all with the hope of making the Israeli team.

curling israel flagThere are now over 50 nations in the WCF and at least a couple of dozen flags hang over the FSCC ice. But something was missing – and I made sure that the newest team was represented. Hopefully they didn’t take it down when I left.

They were ages 16-56. Men and women. College students and business professionals. Some were born in Israel and others had never been to the Holy Land. But they came, they curled, and they tried to impress an esteemed group of evaluators.

Ray “Moosey” Turnbull is one of most well known people in curling and a hero in his home province of Manitoba. After a distinguished curling career, Moosey became a coach and then a broadcaster for Canadian sports network TSN. But he was in Blaine this past weekend watching every rock thrown.

Terry Braunstein is Moosey’s best friend and fellow member of the 1965 Canadian Championship team. He’s also the most famous and accomplished Jewish curler of all time. These two 75-year olds drove down from Winnipeg and I wish I had cameras rolling in that car.

Canadian curling coach Warren Brooke and local MOT Dr. Neil Kay rounded out the coaching/evaluating staff.

So one little detail that differentiates Israeli curling from Jamaican bobsled involves a little something called the Law of Return. The ICF requires curlers to be citizens of their respective countries. Some of the Jewish curlers already have Israeli citizenship, but most of the participants would have to go through the process. And for some of the younger ones, mandatory military service looms. What’s a Jewish curler to do? Well, we’ll soon find out who made the cut and what decisions will have to be made to keep the dream alive.

Once the curlers are selected and their citizenship is all sorted out, the first test will come in October. It’ll definitely be an uphill battle for this fledgling team, but stranger things have happened. I heard that the coaches were pleasantly surprised with the talent that showed up in Blaine and are hopeful for the future of Israeli curling.

I promise to keep you updated on the progress of this motley crew of curlers. Four years is a long way off and there is a lot of work to do – but anything is possible.

*A previous version of this post listed Turkey as voting no for Israel’s inclusion.