Making Jewish life work with sports

 

Eido Walny remembers the first time his son Ilan skated on ice.

Ilan was 2-years-old in November of 2008 when Eido took him to a rink. He didn’t expect to be there long, just enough to give alone time to his wife Michelle, who at the time was pregnant with Ilan’s sister. How much skating could a 2-year-old do?

Hours worth, Eido said. Ilan skated like a natural. After four or five hours, he finally got him off the ice — just in time for a hockey team to enter the rink and capture Ilan’s attention.

Ilan Walny on the ice. Photo by Eido Walny.

About 10 years later, his son is the goalie for the Madison Capitols youth team, with recruiters eyeing Ilan for high school athletics. This month, the Bayside 12-year-old will travel to Sweden to represent Team USA in an international hockey tournament.

Hockey is a major part of Ilan’s identity, as is Judaism. With a bar mitzvah on the horizon, Eido said religious education, secular academics and athletic passion require a careful balancing act.

“It’s a total family effort,” he said. “We work very, very, very hard on our side to enable the kids to do the sorts of things that they want to do and that are important to them and that are important to us as a family.”

Ilan takes his homework on the road as he travels for games and practices, Eido said, and he prioritizes his studies before playing with friends.

Ilan’s religious studies are part of his homework.

Michelle said the family’s rabbi has helped accommodate Ilan’s hockey schedule by working with him outside the traditional Hebrew school program. She said his hockey team has been respectful when the family observes Jewish holidays, which are important to the Walnys.

“We want our kids to love being Jewish and love the activities they participate in,” she said. “Having the young people understand the importance of how both of these factors influence their lives and really engaging them in the decision process has really helped shape who our kids are.”

The family gets advice about hockey and balancing the sport with Judaism from one of Ilan’s coaches, Dov Grumet-Morris, who played professional hockey for 10 years before starting his private equity career at Mason Wells in Milwaukee.

Grumet-Morris said he thinks a balance can be struck through proactive effort. Jewish athletes, he said, must be prepared to be the only one on their team.

“You need to be comfortable with and prepared to be an outlier, and to put your foot down to say it’s important and part of who I am,” he said. “As long as you’re OK with that, you’re not going to have any issues.”

Ilan said he’s excited about his upcoming trip to Sweden and to continue pursuing his passion.

“Being Jewish and a goalie seems really special,” he said. “(I) have a big opportunity to do something. I really want to cherish that.”