As a Semitic nation, the Jewish people emerged as a nation in the warm, dry region of the Middle east. And while snow may occasionally fall in Jerusalem, winter activities are not frequently discussed in the Torah and the Talmud.

Due to the long years of exile in wintery climates, however, Jews have left their mark on a host of varied winter activities. Take, for example, Louis Rubenstein (1861-1931), who is known as the “Father of Canadian Figure Skating.” Rubenstein trained with Jackson Haines, whose innovations of the sport transformed it from “fancy skating,” when skaters traced fancy images on ice, to “figure skating,” which incorporates dance movements. At age 17, Rubenstein won the Montreal championship and, five years later, the Canadian championship. From 1888-1891, he also held the U.S. title. 

Rubenstein was born and raised in Montreal, but his parents were Polish Jews who fled Russian rule. Their fears of Russian anti-Semitism turned into reality in 1890, when their son competed in St. Petersburg at the first international figure skating championship. During the competition, he faced harassment from all segments of Russian society, including the police. In fact, only the intervention of the British ambassador made it possible for him to participate in the competition. Despite terrible outside pressures, Rubenstein won two of the three components of the competition.

Although he retired from competition shortly after he returned from St. Petersburg, Rubenstein remained active in the world of figure skating. In fact, Rubenstein was involved in many sports, and was even president of both the Canadian Bowling Association and the Canadian Wheelmans Association (Cycling). Beyond sports, it should be noted, Rubenstein was also a communal leader who held the position of alderman for 17 years.

Click here for a list of Jewish figure skaters.

This Treat was last posted on February 18, 2011.

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