Sunday, June 23, 2013

Ice Skating at "Ice Peaks" in Holon, Israel

Ice Peaks, Holon Israel
It was a reasonably hot day today in Israel - high 80s F (about 31-32 C) - typical of summer weather.  What can you do to cool off?  Most Israelis (if they are not at work) might head to the beach, a water park, or just stay put in an air conditioned place.  For Canadian-Israelis - the best way to cool off is to head over to rink.

Up until recently, that would have involved a trip up to Metullah - which is about 185 km from Ra'anana.  With traffic, that can be a drive of between 2 hours (in late night, clear driving conditions) or as many as 3 1/2 hours in less optimum conditions.

But recently, a new ice arena opened in Holon, which is central Israel.  The rink is called Ice Peaks.  It is located right off of Highway 4 at the entrance to Holon.  While it is not an Olympic-sized ice rink (far from it), it is nevertheless a sheet of real ice, which is scarce in Israel.  Whether as a result of short-sightedness, budgetary constraints or other reasons, the builders of this ice palace (the literal translation of its Hebrew name) failed to make the arena hockey friendly.  It is not equipped with proper dressing rooms and it is only large enough to accommodate 4-on-4 ice hockey.  Nevertheless, it is only the third real sheet of ice in Israel (aside from Metullah, there is also a rink in Eilat, of all places - which is at least four hours away from central Israel).

Skaters at ice Peaks in Holon
We dropped in this afternoon for some free skating.  The rink charges 55 N.I.S. per person (about $15) for an hour's worth of skating.  There is a sliding rate for a longer time period.  The price includes "skate" (ski-boot style) rental though there is no discounted rate if you show up with your own skates.  Not many Israelis have skates, so that is not surprising.

The rink has a snack kiosk - not kosher - which sells a range of food items from nachos and cheese, hot dogs and melted cheese bagels ("toastim") to middle eastern specialties - Malawach and Jichnun (Yemenite delicacies).  I'm not sure there are too many other places in the world where you can ice skate and then eat Malawach...The snack bar also sells some fairly decent Illy coffee - espresso and other espresso based drinks.  There is some further information about the arena here.  The rink is open 3 p.m. to 8 p.m. Sunday to Thursday.  It is also stated as being open 9 a.m. to midnight on "Fridays, Saturdays, holidays and vacations."  I'm not sure whether that includes holidays like Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur so you may want to check in advance if you intend to turn your Days of Awe into days of awesome skating moves.

We skated around for about an hour.  Of course no one was wearing any kind of head protection...well... maybe we saw one or two bicycle helmets.  Most people were in shorts and t-shirts though some were wearing sweaters and gloves.  For many people at the arena, this was their first time.  So there were people holding on to the boards all around the rink.  There were also some very good figure skaters skating around the arena - some performing spins and twirls as if no one else were on the ice.  Seemed a bit dangerous to me but I suppose it would have been the job of the ice marshals to maintain some order.

There are now various groups using this ice surface for ice hockey practices, scrimmages and games.  The Israel Recreational Hockey Association has been holding some of its weekly games in Holon.  As well, a number of Israeli amateur teams have been practising here.  Despite the shortcomings of this facility, it is a giant step forward for ice hockey in Israel.  Given that the Israeli national ice hockey team recently won its division at the 2013 World Ice Hockey Championships and has moved up a division for 2014, this arena will undoubtedly assist the team as it strives to became Israel's best international ice hockey team ever.

Hopefully, in the coming years, additional full-sized ice hockey arenas will open up in Israel so that the sport can continue to grow, for amateurs and for more serious competitors.  Ice hockey seems ideally suited to the stereotypical Israeli personality - it is a quick, fast paced, exciting sport - that can be a bit rough at times.  But it involves high levels of skill, agility and quick thinking and it is rarely boring.  While it may never surpass soccer (football) or basketball in popularity here, it seems to me that in the long run, it is likely to fare far better than baseball despite the valiant efforts of expatriate Americans. 

For now, if you miss the ice and need to spend some time enjoying a very mild taste of a great winter activity, ice skating in Holon might be a welcome change of pace.  I am not suggesting that this is better than Israel's wonderful beaches, water parks, archaeological, historical and religious sites and its beautiful national parks, all of which are outstanding places to visit in the summer.  But every now and then (or maybe more often that if you are Canadian or Russian), especially when it is really hot outside, some ice can be very, very nice.

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