Thanks to her humble beginnings on Barbie rollerblades, Orthodox Jewish Aliza Hiller is defying stereotypes as an ice hockey player in a competitive women’s league. As a kid, she actively 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 modern Orthodox in Fair Lawn, New Jersey. Being that 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 and exclusive 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 [Teaneck, NJ], she continued involving herself in various sports clubs and activities since she’s “always loved sports, it’s been a big part of my life.” It was her great enthusiasm and skills which prompted the hockey coaches to strongly encourage her to join the team. Once high school had come to an end, she studied in Midreshet Harova in the Jewish Quarter for seminary. Throughout the year, she managed to maintain her athletic lifestyle with the help of her basketball moves. Returning from Israel, she attended Queens College and soon after 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 one day she learned about an adult hockey clinic where people do drills and actually play within a league (something she couldn’t do after high school). They practice in The Icehouse in Hackensack, New Jersey which serves all kinds of ages and levels of skill. The one condition is, you must pay to play. Hiller plays on a women’s team in the Floyd Hall Arena for the middle chunk of the year and many 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 Hiller’s Orthodoxy came into practice and have even participated in some meals. 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, consequently she has had to sacrifice a number of playoff games. Overall, she has played for the women’s league for 7 years. 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 expresses, “I love the responsibility of representing Jewish people” in a positive light through ice hockey. In addition, she is 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, essentially 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 must be exposed to sports as soon as possible if they want 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.”