Who’s the most avid Habs fan outside of Montreal? The hometown’s ardor for the team is cooling this dismal season, but one Jerusalemite’s love affair with the Canadiens remains hot.
Josh Halickman, a Montreal native who made aliyah in 2004, was the winner of the Bring Home the Biggest Fan contest, which was run by the Canadiens and Air Canada.
He was selected out of some 400 entries on the strength of the nomination made by his father, Mel Halickman, who lives in Côte-St-Luc, Que. Josh Halickman received a round-trip flight from Israel, hotel accommodations and two tickets to the March 15 game at the Bell Centre against the Pittsburgh Penguins.
“It was just terrific,” said Halickman, who was given the VIP treatment throughout his stay.
When their presence was announced on the screen during the game’s first period, the crowd went wild, said Halickman. “There seems to be a lot of the Jewish Côte-St-Luc crowd there. They were very excited to see ‘Jerusalem, Israel’ up there, and photos and videos were all over (social media) immediately.”
Before the game, Halickman and his dad were hosted at an exclusive restaurant in the Bell Centre for a specially catered kosher dinner.
The next day, they got an exclusive tour of the arena, including the team’s hallowed locker room.
“It was like a boyhood dream come true,” said Halickman, who’s known as the “Sports Rabbi” in Israel for his website and podcast on Israeli sports. His regular job is as the director of the charitable foundation of Maccabi Tel Aviv, Israel’s premier soccer club.
He also organizes sports-themed tours of Israel for youth groups from abroad. SportsRabbi.com is primarily geared toward the outside world.
“I like to put Israel in a better light through sports. It’s my own private project that I created 10 years ago,” he said. “My presentations on Zionism through sports have been experienced by more than 5,000 people in Israel and abroad over that time.”
I like to put Israel in a better light through sports.
– Josh Halickman
Halickman’s devotion to the Canadiens has never faltered, no matter their fortunes, or where he has lived. But he had not been to a Canadiens home game since 2003.
He took the 5-3 loss to the Penguins, the defending Stanley Cup champions, in stride.
“Since I’ve been in Israel, I have listened to almost every game on my iPad – which means in the middle of the night, which drives my wife up the wall,” he said.
Halickman probably has the largest collection of Canadiens paraphernalia in Israel – everything from ticket stubs, to hats and shirts, to a seat from the old Forum in his bedroom.
“Occasionally, I get together with ex-Montrealers at a sports bar and talk about the team,” said Halickman, who covered hockey at the Maccabiah Games last year.
A graduate of Hebrew Academy who attended Beth Zion Congregation when he was growing up, Halickman, 43, left Montreal to study in Israel after high school and then attended Yeshiva University in New York, where he studied accounting and came back to Montreal to catch as many Canadiens games as he could.
It was like a boyhood dream come true.
– Josh Halickman
After about 10 years in New York, he and his American wife, Sharona, moved to Israel. They have three sons now, the oldest of whom is in the army.
“They are sports fans, but not of hockey, although they know all about the Canadiens,” Halickman said.
The fun began as soon as he landed at Trudeau airport, where Youppi!, the Canadiens mascot, was waiting to greet him. Halickman was taken to Brossard to watch a team practice and treated to a shopping excursion at the Canadiens store.
Canadiens owner Geoff Molson graciously sent Halickman a letter welcoming him and regretting he couldn’t meet them at the game. “The next day, I was downtown with my mother and when we heard Geoff was at Hurley’s pub (for the St. Patrick’s weekend festivities), I said I have to go there and thank him,” said Halickman.