Nedivat Lev Award: Coach Ralph Abecassis

When Frisch parent and longtime hockey lover Ralph Abecassis put together Frisch’s first ever boys ice hockey team, as his son Aaron ‘17 entered the yeshiva, he thought he was just providing an opportunity for kids to play on a team where their Shabbat observance would be accommodated. Seven years later, thanks to Coach Ralph’s incredible giving of his time to develop the ice hockey program, Frisch now boasts three teams: boys varsity and JV, and a girls ice hockey team.

The teams have fulfilled Coach Ralph’s original aim of being a home for Shabbat-observant kids who play hockey, but are also more than he ever could have dreamed. For one thing, Coach Ralph has grown and developed the program into a force to be reckoned with on the ice. By now, the Cougars have won multiple championships. In the third year of the program, the boys ice hockey team won the Ice Cup Challenge and the McMullen Cup final.

But what makes Coach Ralph proudest is how the student athletes conduct themselves–their hard work, preparation, and camaraderie–and when the other coaches make note of what mensches they are. The potential impact is enormous. To the best of Coach Ralph’s knowledge, Frisch is the only Jewish school in the country to have ice hockey teams that compete in the general league on this level. “The fact that they’re the only Jewish tem that participates is a big deal,” says Coach Ralph. “There was a point in the beginning when we started, where the coaches all realized that we were going to be the Jewish team. But we didn’t know what that meant. Everyone looks at us as the Jewish team–so we are the Jewish team.”

He recounts playing his own game at 10 o’clock one night in the Englewood arena, where the teams practice. Another player there, known for being a tough, untalkative guy, asked Coach Ralph: “Are you still coaching that Jewish team?” Coach Ralph answered yes, and the other player replied, “They come here, they play hard, don’t say a word and go home.”

“For him that was the highest compliment; I never heard him compliment anyone before,” said Coach Ralph. “The team always has to make sure they’re on their best behavior, on the ice and off the ice. They know all eyes are on them, and they have to play the part and do their part. We get along well with everyone, the coaches, the refs, and you’ve got to make sure you leave the locker room clean. We convey that to them at the start of the year, but at the end of the day they’re the ones that do it. It’s been seven years and they have set an incredible example.” For Coach Ralph, it has been inspiring to watch, and believes that the experience is also a formative one for the players in cementing their personal Jewish identity.

Coach Ralph, who works in real estate, and his wife Vicky, a psychologist, live in Englewood and attend Ahavath Torah. In Englewood too, Coach Ralph, beloved among players and parents, has been instrumental in establishing a program for 150 children to play ice hockey at the Mackay rink. He also runs an annual Friendship Circle ice skating program, and an ice hockey game featuring Frisch alumni. All three of the Abecassis children have attended Frisch. Aaron ‘17 just graduated from Northwestern with a degree in finance, and is about to start working. Lea ‘18 graduated last May from Binghamton and is now pursuing a master’s degree in hospital administration. Talia ‘24, their youngest, is currently a junior at Frisch.

Coach Ralph says that becoming more and more involved with Frisch has led to even more appreciation for how the school runs. “Doing this job, being with the kids all the time, you really appreciate what the teachers do.”