Israeli Curling Aims For The Big Leagues
American and Canadian curlers face off for a spot on Israel’s growing team
“Hello, I’m Terry Braunstein. I’m a curler. And I’m Jewish.”
And so kicked off the Israel Curling Federation’s first national team training camp, held last weekend at the Four Seasons Curling Club in Blaine, Minnesota. The event drew 20 Jewish curlers—15 men and 5 women—from the United States and Canada, all vying to represent Israel at the European Group C championships in October in the Netherlands.
Braunstein, widely regarded as the most accomplished Jewish curler of all time, is serving as an advisor to the ICF as it works to build winning men’s and women’s teams ahead of the 2018 Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea. Braunstein’s accolades include being, at 18, the youngest skip to ever lead a team at the Canadian nationals, in 1958, and the only Jewish skip to ever go to the world championships, in 1965.
The 75-year-old Manitoba Curling Hall of Famer brought along three friends from the Winnipeg curling scene of his youth. There was Neil Kay, 70, a Jewish doctor at the Mayo Clinic who was part of a group that helped convince the U.S. Olympic Committee to invest in curling in the late 1980s; Ray “Moose” Turnbull, 75, a former teammate of Braunstein’s and a long-time curling commentator on Canadian television; and Warren Brooke, 72, who together with Turnbull traveled the world teaching curling during the 1970s and 1980s.
Turnbull has been called the ‘Don Cherry of curling’—an apt comparison to the flamboyant and outspoken Canadian ice hockey commentator. Dressed in a checkered suit with a lavender shirt and matching pocket square, Turnbull barked at the group, of which I was part, like a volatile but inspirational coach: “Just because you know how to throw a curling rock, please don’t assume you’re a curler because you may not be.”
Brooke and Turnbull had not run a training program in more than a decade. But the two curlers, neither of whom is Jewish, came out of teaching retirement as a favor to Braunstein.
Much of the weekend’s on-ice training focused on the mechanics of proper curling stone delivery—the grip, the draw-step, the slide, the release. Off the ice, the classroom sessions were supposed to revolve around tactics. Instead, Braunstein and Turnbull spent much of the time regaling us with anecdotes from their curling glory days. There were the various cars they won at bonspiels. There was the time Turnbull smashed a glass window with an out-of-control curling rock. There was the intense friendship and deep sense of team camaraderie.
Many details still need to be hammered out ahead of the European contest in the fall—narrowing down the list of potential athletes, obtaining Israeli citizenship for those who don’t already have it, determining military obligations for anyone of conscription age, funding for training and travel. But at least the fundamentals are in place to enable Israel to compete for the first time on the international curling stage.
“I was suspect about what we were going to work with this weekend, but I can tell you we have potential,” Turnbull said. “We can get a team together to get Israel to the next level.”
After a long weekend of curling and kibitzing, Braunstein left us with these words of encouragement: “You’re the best group of Jewish curlers I’ve seen in 30 years. Good luck to all of you.”
Aspiring singer Jessica Katz, 25, moved to Israel from the U.S. in 2011