Life Filled with Poetry

    “A talented person, is talented in all” – wrote Lion Feuchtwanger. That does apply well to Jacob Smushkin, a professional figure skating and hockey trainer. His work demands the presence of a constant creative spirit, without it, he risks to turn from a pioneer to a simple artisan.
    For more than a half a century of activity, Jacob never betrayed his principles of originality and innovation. The results speak for themselves, while still being in USSR he defended a scientific thesis, published a few books and his figure-skating trainees held the highest posts in podiums. That is why the name Jacob Smushkin is rightfully described in the recently published in Russian guide as the “Who is who of Russian figure skating”.
    Here, out west, he was forced to start again from scratch. Immigration did not break him, on the contrary. Escaping from the shackles of the soviet system, Jacob as if gained a “second wind”. Through hard work, bad luck, disappointments, the only thing left permanent was his thirst for creating, belief in himself and the unwillingness to sit twiddling one's thumbs, waiting for a miracle. As a result, thirty some years later, the name Dr. Smushkin, became in a sense a quality mark in the North-American hockey. Among his students are NHL players, winners of many prestigious tournaments, and his chain of hockey schools in Canada, USA and Sweden enjoys an outgoing popularity.     
    However, this article does not come to discuss the sport regalia of Jacob, but what was for many years his secret second passion, poetry. Exactly that is what long-time ago became a constant companion for the honored trainer. It helps him to express in words all that is experienced in seventy-four years of life, all which was thought of, endured and cherished with love in the very depth of his heart. “It is an incomparable feeling,” said Jacob, “when inspiration strikes and thoughts are splashed on paper. It is an elevation of the soul. I worship that state!”
    Part of his poetry is autobiographic. Here you can discover the hungry war childhood of a simple boy from Moscow, episodes from the Soviet reality and sketches of the “western life”. You can find poems that are reflective, full of philosophical content and wisdom of a person who saw a great deal in his life. As well as lyric poetry dedicated to that only woman that in the evening of life became his guiding star.
    Here are just a few examples of the work of Jacob Smushkin.
    Imagine yourself Moscow, the year is 1941… Fear, cold, uncertainty, and in the midst of it all a eleven-year old half-starved boy…

An athlete-runner I became at war
When bombs and siren yelled I run fast
Scared, as if I was a caged beast
I run quickly, to hide from the blast.

After a few months of such training
I noticed that it was not the fear, but the thrill
Which appeared suddenly, without warning,
When the piercing howl commands “begin!”  

I felt as if I was a champion
When I was the first to go,
Through the running tracks of loud halls,
And reach that saving door.

    It was war, as Jacob said himself, that brought-up those qualities in him which helped him, in his life after, to fight and perpetually reach his goals. War, as paradoxical as that sounds, was a good servant. War covered him with problems over his head, from which a fifteen year-old teenager came-out a grown man, strengthened by his daily fight for survival. Any hardships that one can face in his life, can either destroy him, or make him stronger. To Jacobs credit be said, that he belongs to the kind of people which will not break under any circumstances. When in the future choosing the profession of a trainer, he made the effort to install that important quality in his students.

On ice life is different, there are different rules and laws,
There is no bureaucratic hassle or despair
There is no police, no road signs or stop lights,
Here all is equal and fare.  
On ice I can live listening to my heart
Teach my students as I can and know.
Nothing but physics, no limitations
For those who are willing to work hard and learn.

At skating rinks all over the world
From yellow baby-birds I raised
Strong and proud eagles and howls
Who now see me as their second dad.

    “The Ice Country” helped to develop in Jacob all that was given to him by nature. It helped him to find his real destiny, and has given him the chance to fulfill himself. Here, in the world of free-sliding, far from sport-unrelated petty quarrels and hassle, Jacob was able to feel himself as a real creator. He was lucky to maximally detach himself from the system, as though neutralize himself from its decaying influence -  he was a teacher, a mentor, an enlightener to his pupils, but he never mixed “big sport” with politics. It helped him to remain truly free.
    The Soviet Union of the sixties and seventies… those who remember those times understand how highly professional one should have been, being a non-party Jew, to hold a high port in the sport hierarchy, publish his own books, and even simply working in a chosen profession. President of the Moscow Trainers Board of The Federation of Figure Skating, Vice President of The Trainers Board of All-Union Federation, an expert consultant for the USSR league, author of the books “Figure Skating” and “The Art of Figure Skating” – all that is Jacob Smushkin. And despite of it all, a pathfinder, an innovator, an outsider, a person despising authority and retaining his free spirit, at all times.
    It was the thirst for freedom, as the desire for fresh air in a crowded smoky room, which pushed Jacob to immigrate in the beginning of the seventies.

I couldn’t be a champion
In my country of Soviets.
There, I, a nonparty Jew
Many restrictions and limits had.

I was left indeed no choice
But to forever leave my stepmother-land,
Make my way to America
And build my life there.

I became a pathfinder-immigrant
Laying the way for other sportsmen like me.
I became the champion, and as my prize
I got not a medal, not a cup, but destiny.

…And there was hard work, a long way to recognition and success, but talent, hard work and determination did their part. “Yasha from Russia” climber the North-American hockey Olympus.
    He invented “Gym on Ice” – a special combination of gymnastic exercises on ice, which contribute to the development of hockey skillfulness. He write three books, dedicated to the mastery of hockey. Those books became manuals for whole constellation of athletes  in the world.  He organized a chain of sports schools in Canada, USA and Sweden in which his special methodic is being taught. He teaches his students, that in the basis of the highest athletic achievement leys “the ability to think, understand quickly, think sharply, and create well”.     Creation, creation, and again, creation. In everything and all the time. A motto of a restless mater. In that motto leys also the secret of his youth. However, his recipe for a the elixir of youth would not be complete if we forget to mention without one ingredient – love. Age does not control true feeling. In the evening of his life, God granted Jacob with that one and only which you wait for, at time, all your life.

Dear Svetlana,
I am twice your years,
And your ways I so desire,
So the age I do not feel.

With you, my youth is revived
With you, life begins once more.
I write poems, I do not sleep at night,
The music in my heart is louder then before.

    What else does a person need to be happy? A work that gives him pleasure and fulfills his potential, a beloved and a loving woman by his side and an insatiable interest for life, in all its expressions...
Recently a book was published in Toronto, called “Smushkinisms”, which included his “life plot”, sketches, and philosophical reflections about Man, Creation and Love. In addition, a separate part dedicated to aphorisms, short, meaningful phrases, holding wisdom, wittiness and a lifelong experience of that remarkable person.
    All those who are interested to know how to stay young at such respectable age, and also those who can’t stay indifferent to poetry will find interest in that book. “Smushkinisms” are available at Russian book stores, and also by that number (416) 663-1052.
Read the works of Jacob Smushkin, and feel by yourself the vivifying charge of his love for life, optimism and kindness.   

(Article from various Toronto Russian Community newspapers)