No one can ever know for sure what God is thinking, but it’s likely that when he made the Jews his Chosen People, it wasn’t because of their ability to draw the four-foot circle or execute a raise takeout.
No, not at all. It was pretty clear from their 0-5 record to start the annual Friars’ Briar and their assignment to the relegation round that the “Frozen Chosen” are much better at matters of faith than in faithfully performing on the pebbled ice.
Perhaps they were daunted by the presence on the ice of a rather un-kosher sounding “hog line,” but still, the four Toronto-area Jewish clergymen and woman, who adopted the “Frozen Chosen” moniker for the tournament, managed to win Game 1 of the relegation round. In doing so they defeated a team from Winnipeg, where curling is, if not a religion, then something pretty close.
They managed to go 3-0 in the relegation round playoffs, winning the Hugh Christmas Award.
Contacted in Ottawa, where the tournament runs parallel to the Tim Hortons Brier, Rabbi Cory Weiss was upbeat and full of good humour, enjoying the camaraderie of his teammates and opponents.
“Everybody is in good spirits,” Rabbi Weiss said on the phone, no doubt referring to something other than curling’s post-game ritual of imbibing frothy beverages.
The Friars’ Briar brings together rinks from across Canada, and this year, for the first time since the genesis of the event in 1978, Jews joined their Christian confreres in sliding granite rocks down pebbled ice.
Rabbis Jerry Steinberg (of B’nai Shalom V’Tikvah in Ajax, third), Michael Dolgin (Temple Sinai, skip), Weiss (Temple Har Zion, second) and Cantor Katie Oringel (Temple Sinai, lead) made up the Frozen Chosen.
Interestingly, of the four, only Rabbi Steinberg grew up playing the sport, in his hometown of Regina. The others, all originally from the United States, are Moshe-come-latelies to the game.
The four play on separate rinks once a week in the Greater Toronto Interfaith Curling Club, but teamed together for the national bonspiel.
Playing only once a week is a bit of a handicap, conceded Rabbi Weiss, especially when the other rinks play more often. But that didn’t take away from the collegiality and fun of playing with other men and women of faith.
Asked if HaShem might have a stake in who wins the event, Rabbi Weiss said, “It’s all in God’s hands. Prayer and faith have a lot to do with it. But everybody here has prayer and faith. God doesn’t takes sides in curling.”
True enough, but a few more brachot and mitzvahs wouldn’t hurt.
As it happened, the schedule for the Friars’ Briar couldn’t have come at a better time. Because it was held relatively close to Toronto and didn’t fall on Purim, the four holy throwers could get together and see their dream come true.Although Rabbi Steinberg’s curling pedigree goes back to his high school in Regina, where a school janitor created a shortened sheet of ice and the kids crafted rocks out of tin cans and cement, the others came on board in just the last few years.
Before their weekly games at the Annandale Golf & Curling Club in Ajax, the religious leaders get together for a shmeer and shmooze.
“It’s my favourite morning of the week,” said Rabbi Weiss. “I love the collegiality and the friendliness.”
Sometimes they’re joined by Christian clergy, and they acknowledge the weekly games helps create fraternal bonds between members of the two faith groups.
Rabbi Weiss points to a number of joint programs held by synagogues and churches, such as joint concerts and pulpit exchanges.
As for the Friars’ Briar, Rabbi Steinberg said, “It’s been a good experience. It’s created a lot of good relationships between Christian clergy and us.”
Next time around, other religious representatives might take part. Rabbi Steinberg has invited an imam from the local Islamic society to participate.
If one day you hear him tell his congregation, “Hurry, whoa, hard, hard, hard, whoa, whoa,” he might have taken another step in adopting to native Canadian curling culture.
Photo: Friar’s Briar