Thanks to her humble beginnings on Barbie rollerblades, Orthodox Jew Aliza Hiller is defying stereotypes as an ice hockey player in a competitive women’s league. As a kid, she played basketball, softball and floor hockey, but competitive ice hockey was not an obvious passion, rather she says, “I grew to love it.” Hiller was raised in Fair Lawn in a Modern Orthodox family. Since she only has sisters, the stigma around girls being meek and unathletic was non-existent; they simply had other cares and interests. Because of this, she was able to develop a non-competitive sports relationship with her father, which catapulted her love for the game, reaffirming her belief that “anyone could play sports.”
During her high school years in Ma’ayanot, she continued involving herself in various sports clubs and activities, noting, she’s “always loved sports. It’s been a big part of my life.” It was her great enthusiasm and skill which prompted the hockey coaches to strongly encourage her to join the team. After high school, she studied in Midreshet Harova in Jerusalem and managed to maintain her athletic lifestyle, and basketball prowess, throughout the year. While attending Queens College the following year, she realized, “I need something. I need a sport to play.” A block of scratched ice turned out to be what she needed.
Nothing quenched her thirst for the thrill of playing competitively until she learned about an adult hockey clinic, operating out of Hackensack’s The Ice House, where people do drills and actually play in a league, something that was missing after high school.
Hiller also plays on a women’s team at the Floyd Hall Arena for the middle chunk of the year for the last seven years, and has had to work to reconcile her love of the game and her commitment to Judaism. Many of the scheduled games often coincide with Shabbat and holidays, though she has been able to have some games moved to accommodate her needs. “When I first started, they had no idea what it means to be an Orthodox Jew.” Fortunately, her teammates are very accepting and accommodating when there are conflicts with Hiller’s Orthodoxy and have even participated in some Shabbat meals with her. Now they can’t stop eating Shabbos challah!
As a team, they travel to surrounding states for games. Hiller finds that “the road trips are fun for everybody.” When people hear about her special arrangements, which includes renting a hotel room for Shabbos so she can make it to a Saturday night game, they are surprised. They ask, “Well, can’t you speak to your religion about playing this one game?” For Hiller, her Judaism is her first and foremost priority. Because of her unwavering values and beliefs, she has even had to sacrifice a number of playoff games. There is an element of fear and frustration for her at times because, “You don’t want to come across as an entitled Jew.” However, with all the challenges, Hiller still feels so fortunate, “I love the responsibility of representing Jewish people” in a positive light through ice hockey.
In addition to her recreational interests, Hiller works as a coach for middle school girls’ hockey at Yavneh Academy. When teaching the rules of the game, she makes sure to highlight the importance of having good character, especially with regards to the rules of life as an Orthodox Jew. Through her coaching career, she hopes to “combine the sport that they love with the religion that we all love.” The advice that Hiller relates to parents is that kids should be exposed to sports as soon as possible in order to guarantee them a healthy and active lifestyle as they grow older. Hiller believes that “The throw might go anywhere, but you’re never too young for it.”
This was reprinted with permission from JewintheCity.com. Get tickets to their sixth annual All Star Awards on December 2, at Lincoln Center on JewintheCity.com/events
By Efrat Malachi