Pittsburgh Penguins host first Jewish Heritage Night
Community, pride & hockeyA Jewish hat trick

Pittsburgh Penguins host first Jewish Heritage Night

It's a Jewish Heritage Night in Pittsburgh

Hillel Academy of Pittsburgh students sang the National Anthem before the Pittsburgh Penguins defeated the Carolina Hurricanes during Jewish Heritage Night and PPG Paints Arena. (Photo provided by Rabbi Oren Levy)
Hillel Academy of Pittsburgh students sang the National Anthem before the Pittsburgh Penguins defeated the Carolina Hurricanes during Jewish Heritage Night and PPG Paints Arena. (Photo provided by Rabbi Oren Levy)

Delvina Morrow believes hockey is for everyone.

That belief led to the creation of the Pittsburgh Penguins’ first Jewish Heritage Night on Dec. 21, as the hometown hockey team took on the Carolina Hurricanes at the PPG Paints Arena.

Morrow, the vice president of community affairs and diversity equity and inclusion at the Pittsburgh Penguins, said that after Hillel Academy of Pittsburgh students sang the national anthem at a game last year during Chanukah and, after talking with Rabbi Henoch Rosenfeld of Chabad Young Professionals (CYP), the Penguins wanted to do more.

Conversations focused on “how can we create an environment in our arena where everyone feels like they belong, and everyone feels like it’s their Pittsburgh Penguins,” she said.

The concept swelled to include block ticket sales so the community could sit together, kosher food offerings, a table inside the arena hosted by CYP, a black and gold rally towel with the words “Pittsburgh Penguins” in Hebrew, and a return appearance from Hillel’s students to sing the national anthem before the first puck drop.

Rosenfeld said that CYP has collaborated with Beth Hamedrash Hagodol-Beth Jacob Congregation (the Downtown Shul) the last two years for a menorah lighting followed by a Pens game and tailgating.

Top row: Rabbi Henoch Rosenfeld and Max Sussman. Bottom row: Mendel and Chezy Rosenfeld. (Photo provided by Rabbi Henoch Rosenfeld)

This year, the rabbi said, he hoped to do something with the Penguins during Chanukah; while that timing didn’t work out, there was a date available the following week.

“I thought that was still special and hope that we’ll continue to grow and perhaps do it during Chanukah and even maybe, someday, have a menorah in the arena or on the ice,” he said.

It was Morrow, he said, who reached out and asked if CYP would like to have a table in the arena to let people know more about the organization and its work in the community.

“That was phenomenal,” Rosenfeld said. “People from the entire Jewish community, some who didn’t even know it was Jewish Heritage Night, saw the table stocked with Jewish stuff and stopped over to schmooze and chat. It was great to have a presence in the arena.”

Hillel Academy’s K-4 Assistant Principal Rabbi Oren Levy wore his excitement for the night on his sleeve — or rather, on the back of a Penguins jersey with his name emblazoned on it.

He said that hockey resonates with him as an educator because the sport shows the value of working together to achieve a common goal.

The opportunity to be on the ice with the 18 students — 11 girls and seven boys, singing — was “the memory of a lifetime,” Levy said.

The rabbi said that he had been in touch with the team since the 2017 Winter Classic, which was held in Pittsburgh, when he attempted to arrange for Hillel Academy students to take the ice and sing. His good intentions were sidetracked, first by the Pittsburgh synagogue shooting and then the pandemic, which canceled an entire season. Last year, Hillel students were finally able to sing before a game.

Levy connected the students’ time on the ice to the weekly parsha about Joseph, who identified himself as a Hebrew, even while in Egypt.

“I said to the kids and to the parents, ‘We have an opportunity to show the Pittsburgh community and Jewish communities around the country Jewish kids singing the national anthem with their yarmulkes, expressing their pride in being Hebrews, Jews. We don’t take that for granted,” he said.

BBYO teens enjoyed community and hockey at Jewish Heritage Night on Dec. 21. (Photo by William Spatz)

Haliel Selig, city director of BBYO’s Keystone Mountain Region heard about Jewish Heritage Night from her congregation. She was able to obtain a grant through BBYO, which helped cover the cost of the 16 teens who attended the game.

“The kids had a blast,” she said. “They were excited. They loved the Jewish heritage part and the fact that Hillel sang. They were sending me pictures and asking, ‘Did you know they were going to do this?’ With everything going on, it was a nice boost for them.”

For Rosenfeld, the event’s timing meant a lot.

“In a time like this, where being Jewish in public is something that, unfortunately, people think twice about, I think having something like this sends a strong message to our community that we shouldn’t think twice,” he said. “And being able to be publicly Jewish in such a space is a huge boost in morale for the Jewish community.”

And maybe, just maybe, it helped the Penguins, too. They won in the second round of a shootout against the Canes.

“I do think (Sidney) Crosby scored because of Jewish Heritage Night,” Rosenfeld said. “I think he did it for us.” PJC

David Rullo can be reached at drullo@pittsburghjewishchronicle.org.

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