Unlike some of the other major American sports, hockey does not have a famous Jewish face for us to look up to, past or present. In baseball, there have been many, including Sandy Koufax and Hank Greenberg, as well as Alex Bregman and Joc Pederson today. Jewish basketball fans watch Deni Avdija, a young Israeli with the potential to become a star. Even in football, players like Julian Edelman and Mitchell Schwartz inspire the young Jewish athletes of the world. However, there are not many widely known Jews in the hockey universe.
In a season that is heavily influenced by Covid-19, all eyes will be on how the commissioner of every major sport handles the struggles that the virus presents. Gary Bettman, the NHL’s commissioner, is actually Jewish! Bettman has been one of the most successful commissioners in all of sports history, and has continued to succeed over the past year, allowing his league to succeed during a time of turmoil. Bettman became the commissioner of the world’s premier hockey league in 1993, when the NHL was far from a successful organization. However, he was able to turn the league around, expanding into multiple new cities and adding 7 new teams over the years. His actions have led to a growth of revenue from $400 million to about $3 billion today. This year, though, all eyes will be fixed on the International Jewish Hall of Fame member. After a successful postseason “bubble” this summer, Bettman will have to continue to navigate current protocols, and deal with the inevitable outbreaks of Covid throughout the season. Gary Bettman is a major representative of Jews in sports, and has done a fantastic job over the years in leading the NHL.
Another member of the Jewish community in the NHL is young phenom Jack Hughes. Hughes was drafted first overall into the NHL by the New Jersey Devils in the 2019 Draft at the age of 18. He’s the son of a Jewish mother and a Catholic father, and he has stated multiple times that he embraces the heritage of both of his parents. Hughes was the first Jew to be picked first overall in the NHL, and has an older brother that was drafted earlier on. Hughes, the son of Ellen Weinberg-Hughes, also a Jewish hockey star, had a Bar Mitzvah, and also has mentioned celebrations of Jewish holidays, including Passover. The center’s first season was solid, netting a total of 21 points with 14 assists and 7 goals. Jack Hughes is an inspirational figure to the many Jewish hockey fans, like myself, around the world.
Josh Ho-Sang, a New York Islander and former 28th overall pick, is on the cusp of Jewish greatness as well. Ho-Sang’s background is a mix of seemingly infinite cultures: his mother, Ericka, is a Chilean Jew, with roots in Russia, Germany, and Spain, while his father, Wayne, is a Jamaican Christian, whose heritage can be drawn back to Hong Kong. Ho-Sang was raised celebrating all of the cultural traditions in his household, including those of Judaism, and has embraced his role as a model for the many groups he represents. He has voiced his pride in himself for the hope he has provided for Jews, Hispanics, Asians, and Europeans in the sports world. Ho-Sang has seen success in his small sample sizes in the pros, but he still is waiting to have a breakout performance and stake out his position as a star in the league.
For young Jewish athletes and sports fans, like myself, it is important to recognize these major role models in our world, and see that we have representation in every league there is, and at every level. These people, while not famous for their Jewish heritage, are crucial to continuing the encouragement of young Jews around the world. They are proof that we can achieve our dreams in whatever field we want to, even when we are counted out. Bettman, Hughes, and Ho-Sang will continue showing the world the power of the Jewish community.