That’s the thing about making decisions, 17-year-old Noah Petak said. Put two people in the same situation and they might choose two different things, depending on their priorities and preferences.
“Just make your own decision,” Noah said.
He’s a senior at the Frisch Academy in Paramus and a talented hockey player — and this year he opted out of club hockey to spend more time on his studies and just “hang out.” Not an easy decision when you have played with the North Jersey Avalanche hockey club for some 10 years, helped create what has become a vibrant hockey team at your high school, and won a gold medal at the Maccabiah games in Israel.
Still, Noah has no regrets.
Noah — who lives in Tenafly with his parents Jonathan and Susie and his three siblings — still loves the sport, but last year he realized that his schedule was untenable. Something had to give if he was to have a relatively normal life. Placing school first, he withdrew from the club, even though that meant effectively forgoing an opportunity to play in Division 1 some day.
“It was too hard,” he said. “Freshman, sophomore, and junior years I was practicing three or four nights a week and then playing two games on the weekend. I would get out of school at 5:30, go to practice, and then get home at around 10:30, when I would start to do my schoolwork.
“It was a very big decision, but I don’t regret it. I have more time to hang out with my family and friends, I’m home for Shabbat, and I have more time for my schoolwork. I didn’t have a life. Now everything is more relaxed.”
Noah still hasn’t decided whether to pursue medicine or finance as a professional career. “I really enjoy them both,” he said.
It’s clear that sports are a big deal in his family. Noah plays golf in the summer, his father has played basketball all his life, his sister swims, and both his younger brothers share Noah’s enthusiasm for ice hockey. Nor has Noah abandoned the sport. Far from it. He’s an important part of the Frisch hockey team, the Cougars. “We practice twice a week and have one game, or else we practice once a week and have two games,” Noah said. The team holds second place in its division.
The Cougars is a relatively new team. “It started up five years ago, when I was still in eighth grade,” Noah said. “When I came in as a freshman, it really took off. We had really good players,” he added, citing in particular his friend Jake Froman, who lives in Englewood.
While other yeshivas have been creating hockey teams over the past few years, “We’re the only yeshiva with a real team,” he said, explaining that the other schools’ teams don’t compete in games “but do practice and scrimmage. We’re the only school that plays against public schools in the New Jersey high school ice hockey league.”
Noah said that as an observant Jew — and the only Jew on the Avalanche — he always was aware that “I was a religious Jew playing at the highest level.” He appreciates that the hockey team respected his restrictions. “I told them before the season when I couldn’t play. They understood that. They were respectful of my religious needs.”
The teen’s first trip to Israel took place in 2017, when he was asked to play in the Maccabiah. “I was at camp, at Morasha,” in Pennsylvania, “when I got the invitation,” he said. “It’s like the Olympics for Jews. The whole family went for three and a half weeks. It was amazing.” Winning the gold medal was memorable as well. So too were the people he met. “I met a bunch of people from the East Coast and California,” he said. “I still keep in touch with some of them, especially on the East Coast.”
And while Noah did not mention it, according to an article in a local newspaper at the time, he was “the youngest athlete selected among hundreds across the U.S. to play ice hockey in the 2017 Maccabi Games in Israel.”
It’s clear from Noah’s experience that learning goes both ways. “At home, I learned to always stay humble,” he said. “From hockey, I learned to keep on trying.” Both lessons have been invaluable. He also has learned how to balance the various parts of his life. He would tell other students, “Don’t do what you don’t want to do, what you’re doing but not enjoying.
“Make your own decision.”