“It kind of just fell into my lap one day,” 22-year-old Wisconsinite Hannah Gold said, describing the opportunity to represent the United States in Women’s ice hockey at Israel’s Maccabiah Games, one of the largest sports competitions in the world.
From July 14-28, 2022, the Games hosted 10,000 athletes from 60 countries, in Jerusalem. The games are sometimes called the “Jewish Olympics,” and they are a multisport event open to Jewish athletes from around the world, and to all Israeli citizens regardless of religion.
Gold grew up in Mequon and has been skating since she was 3-years-old. “I played with boys since high school, so that helped me stay tough,” Gold said. In high school, Gold played hockey while at the University School of Milwaukee and trained for three years at the Harry and Rose Samson Family Jewish Community Center in Whitefish Bay. “It was nice to have that community here.”
Asked to recruit Jewish female hockey players on United States teams, Gold’s college coach at Augsburg University emailed her that she had been selected to play. As it was Gold’s first time going to Israel and her first time having other Jews on her team, this would be a meaningful experience.
“Our team had a really good bond. We all wanted great things to come out of the trip, so I think that really helped,” Gold said.
While at Augsburg University, in Minneapolis, Minn., where Gold played hockey for the last four years, she was the only Jew on her team. Then in Israel, she was surrounded by Jews hailing from everywhere, from Turkey to Brazil. Most exciting, however, was the fact that not one Jewish athlete celebrated the same way. “It was cool to see everyone’s different take on everything and how there’s different ways to be Jewish.”
Gold said that Shabbat was one way to examine these differences. Even in just passing around the challah, Gold and her teammates were able to connect the many sects in the room.
The US athletes spent the week before the games getting to know some cultural pillars of Israel. They visited Masada, the Western Wall, the Dead Sea, listened to a Holocaust survivor speak, and went to Yad Vashem.
The programming coordinators even held a party for the US athletes. “It was in an amphitheater outside, everyone wore white… the energy was really cool there. Everybody was dancing,” Gold said.
From 6 am to 10 pm every day, Gold and her peers stayed busy practicing, getting to know each other, and playing.
“It’s a big deal that women’s hockey is part of the games because people have been trying to get it for years. I’m very thankful that it was able to be there,” Gold shared.
The Women’s Ice Hockey category hosted three teams: the US, Israel and Canada. After a double round robin, Gold’s team took silver. For the tournament overall, Gold herself won team’s most valuable player.
When asked about how her Jewish identity plays into her hockey career, Gold said, “it’s always part of your identity, never separated.”