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Saturday, May 30, 2020

Rabbi Jeremy Fine on Presenting Professional Wrestling at His Synagogue

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Once named one of the “Most Inspiring Rabbis In America” by Forward Magazine, Rabbi Jeremy Fine leads the Temple Of Aaron Synagogue in Saint Paul, Minnesota. While studying at the Jewish Theological Seminary in New York, Rabbi Fine received the William H. Lebeau Book Award and the Rabbi Morris Silverman Award in Liturgy. The Illinois native has also studied at Israel’s Conservative Yeshiva and the Machon Schechter Institute, beyond studies and certificates completed elsewhere.

But Jeremy Fine is far more than just a rabbi at a highly-regarded synagogue. Family duties aside, he is the founder of The Great Rabbino, a blog which turned into a company. Fine’s blog, which has spotlighted Jewish sporting news and stories, has been recognized by big national outlets including the Chicago Sun Times and the San Francisco Sentinel. The Great Rabbino as a company serves as a way for the Jewish community to better engage with sports and Jewish athletes. In turn, The Great Rabbino has helped bring athletes to speak at Jewish day schools, run clinics at summer camps, and worked closely with Israel organizations.

Under Rabbi Jeremy Fine, Temple Of Aaron has also made headlines by featuring professional wrestling live events at its synagogue. To learn more about this, I had the pleasure of doing Q&A with Rabbi Fine in April 2020. We discussed his journeys within the world of both wrestling and Judaism.

Darren Paltrowitz: When in life did you start following professional wrestling versus getting serious about Judaism?

Rabbi Jeremy Fine: I have been interested in both since I was a child. My father took me to matches to see The Rockers and Rick Rude and I attended Jewish day school starting in Kindergarten. My best friend and I from school used to play with the LJN wrestling figures at recess and the wrestling buddies – which I still have – at home. I would rent whichever VHS tapes I could get a hold of and owned “Summerslam ’88,” which is still my all-time favorite pay-per-view. I did not want to be a rabbi until I got to college and I believe that was after I sent in my audition for “Tough Enough” season 1.

Darren Paltrowitz: Did you ever get out of professional wrestling? Did other interests overtake it at any point?

Rabbi Jeremy Fine: My family did not have cable so I did not see Monday Night Raw until I was in high school and would go lift weights in my gym during commercials and then watch “RAW” in between sets. The gym was the one featured on the recent “Last Dance” documentary on ESPN, so basketball was my main focus outside of school work.

Darren Paltrowitz: Your synagogue has gotten involved within the world of professional wrestling. How exactly did that happen?

Rabbi Jeremy Fine: I have been known to be fairly-experimental when it comes to programming. A few congregants said “let’s have Templemania.” Challenge accepted. We sat with a promoter who couldn’t help us with the vision.

Then Colt Cabana, who grew up in the same city as I did and I have known a for a little bit, put me in touch with Arik Cannon and F1rst Wrestling. Arik saw the vision immediately. He has been a tremendous and respectful partner. Both shows are been sold-out and eye-opening.

As an aside, Arik has a brilliant mind for wrestling and has been the perfect partner for us. I cannot imagine there are better promoters anywhere in the world.

Darren Paltrowitz: Was there an uphill battle at any point to get people from your synagogue to support wrestling taking place there?

Rabbi Jeremy Fine: Like many of the programs that I have run there is usually opposition; in some ways that is what makes them exciting. Synagogues need to evolve and wrestling has done some amazing things for us internally. It fills the congregation. It brings stories to life. It has been a way to break down religious barriers. So many people had never stepped foot in a synagogue, let alone met a rabbi and maybe even an outwardly proud Jew.

The fans have been incredibly grateful and absolutely want more. A young son ran up to his father while I was talking to him and said “can we get season tickets to Temple Of Aaron wrestling?” as if this is the coolest synagogue in the world. I am biased, but we are!

Darren Paltrowitz: How does the wrestling at your synagogue compare to that of a normal independent wrestling show?

Rabbi Jeremy Fine: We have had Jewish content in the shows; from the 10 Plagues Battle Royal to the Fatal Four Way Dreidel Dash. We have used a tallis to cover the belt, Hebrew songs, and a kiddish cup. But everything we do is authentic to F1rst Wrestling as well. Arik is a master at that. It sounds hokey but the production of it is cool.

We bring in Jewish wrestlers as well. Currently, Cabana is our champion and he has fought Chris Masters. We also had David Starr vs. Matt Sydal; you can find the match on YouTube. That was an incredible match. Lisa Marie Varon did a surprise appearance as well. Also, we have worked with an Israeli promotion and that relationship continues to grow. Our goal is to bring our champ there and they sent an up and comer, Yuval Goldschmidt, to our show.

Darren Paltrowitz: Does your synagogue ever foresee creating a circuit of synagogues with wrestling shows?

Rabbi Jeremy Fine: Long term, I think it is possible. I have had interest from a handful of rabbis across the country. A few are nervous, which is understandable. With the right partners, it could be amazing and very different. Imagine these beautiful yet empty synagogues on weekday nights jam-packed with people singing Jewish music and interacting with Jewish superstars.

Darren Paltrowitz: Wrestling is not generally synonymous with Judaism, but many of its most influential characters and behind the scenes people have Jewish roots. When did you first notice wrestling to have a strong connection to Judaism?

Rabbi Jeremy Fine: Probably with Goldberg and Paul Heyman. I was a Barry Horowitz fan too, but I was more into the “Macho Man” Randy Savage. Then I found out Savage’s mother was Jewish and it absolutely caught my attention.

My website, TheGreatRabbino.com, is dedicated to Jews in sports and there is plenty of wrestling content. Recently, I met “The Genius” Lanny Poffo and he shared some of his mother’s story with me. He was wearing Savage’s Hall Of Fame ring which was amazing.

Darren Paltrowitz: Do you have a favorite Jewish wrestler of all time?

Rabbi Jeremy Fine: Macho Man is my favorite wrestler of all-time, maybe tied with Curt Hennig. Currently, I am biased and will say Cabana because I have seen him behind the curtain helping the young guys and I find that “super menschie.” I am very glued to what Drew Gulak is doing right now in WWE as well as MJF in AEW.

Darren Paltrowitz: Wrestling aside, what is coming up for you and your synagogue?

Rabbi Jeremy Fine: Post Coronavirus we have our major celebrity fundraiser featuring BJ Novak and Rainn Wilson. That will be awesome. And hopefully, sometime this summer will be our 3rd show, Bar Mitzvah Bash, during our annual Crossriver Block Party.

Darren Paltrowitz: Finally, any last words for the kids?

Rabbi Jeremy Fine: Enjoy your Judaism. Make it fun. Have it mesh with your passions. Far too often synagogues, boards, and especially rabbis lose sight of the idea that we want Jews doing Jewish and that looks different for everyone. When we are enjoying it and having fun the synagogue is a great place to be.

More on Rabbi Jeremy Fine can be found here and here.

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