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Israeli hockey team to play ex-Penguins, Duquesne to benefit Jewish community | TribLIVE.com
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Israeli hockey team to play ex-Penguins, Duquesne to benefit Jewish community

Matt Rosenberg
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Shai Maaravi, a member of the Israeli National Team, plays hockey at Duquesne and helped organize the 'Hockey is Stronger than Hate' weekend.

It took one trip to Pittsburgh for Shai Maaravi to be hooked.

Traveling with the Canada Israel Hockey School as an assistant coach, Maaravi and his team from Israel were brought to Pittsburgh in 2015 as part of Emily Pressman’s Bat Mitzvah project. Stacey Pressman, Emily’s mom, said Emily always has loved hockey and hoped to tie that in.

While Maaravi and the team were in Pittsburgh, they played and trained and spent time with local families. That’s when he became close with the Pressmans.

“We pretty much quasi-adopted him,” Stacey Pressman said.

Labeled an “elite athlete” by Israel, Maaravi was granted an extra 90 days per year to — among other perks — train and travel to the IIHF World Championships with the Israeli National Team. He used some of that time — every three or four months for three weeks or so — to visit Pittsburgh to train, play and live with the Pressmans.

By his second or third trip back to visit, he said, Pressman suggested Maaravi try to move to the area.

“It was always kind of my dream to maybe get settled here, try to live here,” Maaravi said.

After serving his required three years in the Israeli army between 19 and 22 through June 2018, Maaravi is here, a freshman at Duquesne, living on campus and playing ACHA Division I hockey. But he still spends some time and weekends with the Pressmans in Squirrel Hill, a community that, within a few months of Maaravi starting school, was struck by horror.

The Tree of Life Congregation massacre nearly three months ago sent shockwaves through his community, and he wants to be sure no one brushes it aside.

That’s why the Hockey Sticks Together Foundation, Maaravi and the Pressmans all took part in organizing this weekend’s “Hockey is Stronger Than Hate” events. A group of Israel Selects alumni will travel to Pittsburgh to face Maaravi’s Duquesne club team and a Pittsburgh Penguins alumni team — featuring some other special guests — Saturday and Sunday nights.

Proceeds from the games, silent auctions and sale of merchandise and apparel will benefit the Hillel Jewish University Center of Pittsburgh and the Israel Hockey Federation.

“We want to show that it didn’t just happen, we dealt with it a couple of months and it’s done,” Maaravi said. “It’s not done.”

Having lived in Israel, Maaravi was “used to this kind of event,” he said, and it wasn’t unheard of to hear about a person you know dying because of a terrorist attack. Stacey Pressman said Maaravi reached out immediately upon hearing about the Tree of Life shooting.

“As he was horrified, it was a very different level of ‘Are you OK? Where are you? Let’s get you home,’ ” Stacey Pressman said. “He was so systematic about how you had to deal with this.”

Though conflict in Israel exists, Maaravi said he doesn’t believe that to be based in religion. He said Arab-Israeli conflict is related to the country itself, not that its people are Jewish.

Which is what made the Tree of Life shooting different: That was rooted in the growing anti-Semitism around the world, he said.

“I never expected to move to Pittsburgh and my family’s Squirrel Hill neighborhood and my community targeted because of hate and terrorism simply because we’re Jews,” Maaravi said during a vigil at Duquesne in the aftermath.

And that played a big role in wanted proceeds from the games this weekend to go to the Jewish University Center.

“Students like me, my age, my generation basically are the ones who face this anti-Semitism,” he said. “They’re going to be the ones who have to maybe find a solution for this.”

A few weeks after the shooting, Hockey Sticks Together organized a fundraising weekend, honoring victims Cecil and David Rosenthal in a tournament for developmentally disabled hockey players. Maaravi dropped a ceremonial puck while donning his Israeli National Team jersey at that event.

Among Pittsburgh athletes playing in the alumni event Sunday will be former Penguins winger Tyler Kennedy and former Steelers kicker Shaun Suisham. Former Penguins coach Michel Therrien will coach the Israeli team.

Brett Keisel will coach the alumni team with some help from Neil Walker. Sean Casey also will be there with members of the Miracle League of the South Hills, an organization he founded to help wheelchair-bound or visually impaired children play baseball.

“It’s about all the Pittsburgh sports guys and Pittsburgh community all coming together for a greater good and try to find some healing,” said Michele Humphreys, executive director of Hockey Sticks Together. “ There’s something so much bigger here.”

Tickets for the 7 p.m. Saturday game between the Israel Selects and Duquesne at Alpha Ice Complex in Harmar are $10. Tickets for Sunday’s 7:30 p.m. game between the Pittsburgh athletes and Israeli team at UPMC Sports Complex are $15. They can be purchased in advance here.

Matt Rosenberg is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Matt at [email protected] or via Twitter @Matt_Rosenberg.