Rabbi Yisroel Bernath is from Chicago, but after moving to Montreal to open Chabad of NDG he was “converted” into a Montreal Canadiens fan. Congregants taught him the rules of hockey and took him to games. When Hal Gill played for the Canadiens, he lived just off Monkland and Rabbi Bernath developed a friendship with the large defenseman.
On May 3rd, the Habs were in the second round of the playoffs, playing game two against the Tampa Bay Lightning, a team that had beaten the Canadiens all five times they met during the regular season and in game one of the playoffs. Rabbi Bernath was unable to follow the game as he would be spending the evening handing out certificates to a group of students who were graduating his “Sinai Scholars” course (a course in which students receive bursaries to take a course on Judaism). He posted on his Facebook wall, “Really excited for the Sinai Scholars graduation about to begin. Going to send some good spiritual vibes to the Habs!”
Rabbi Mendy Dubrowski of Chabad of South Tampa, who is close to the owner of the Lightning and a big fan of the team, saw the post and commented, “Why waste a good spiritual vibe?”
That’s when Rabbi Bernath hit upon an idea. He responded, “whats the spiritual wager Tampa rabbi?” and called Rabbi Dubrowski. Together they decided to hold a bet. Combining a Mitzvah with supporting a local sports team, the Rabbis wagered that each one would try to get their local Jewish fan base to pray for their team by uploading a video of them saying the Shema (the foremost Jewish prayer). The hashtag #HabsShema or #BoltsShema would be added into each Facebook post so the Rabbis could keep a count and see who’s in the lead.
At the end of the series, the Rabbi whose “team” uploaded fewer Shemas will have to give their next Shabbos sermon wearing the other team’s jersey.
“Sometimes I get these crazy ideas,” admitted Rabbi Bernath. “Uploading a video and tagging friends will bring a Biblical Mitzvah to many Jewish hockey fans who want their team to win the series.”
Lior Wisbaum, a regular at Chabad of NDG, was preparing a program when Rabbi Bernath asked him if he would film the Skype call. “I took Rabbi Bernath’s iPhone and took the video,” said Wisbaum. “The Rabbi from Tampa joked how he didn’t have as many resources as Chabad NDG does in having handy cameramen around.”
Wisbaum edited the video to keep it short. “Because rabbis Kvetch more than necessary,” he joked. “And to show both sides of the story.”
Rabbi Bernath uploaded the video onto YouTube and Facebook and the bet was on. By midday, several congregants had uploaded their Shemas using the #HabsShema hashtag. Dan Lallouz was the first to make the video. “I did it because I’m always down with trying to get people to connect to their spiritual side, to their Judaism,” explained Lallouz. “I thought this was a great way to do it, that most people could connect with.”
“You don’t have to be a member of any particular Shul and you don’t have to be tagged by someone to do the Habs Shema video,” concluded Rabbi Bernath. “You just need to be a Jewish Canadiens fan willing to do a Mitzvah for the Habs. And G-d willing if we make it through to next round, we’ll challenge a rabbi from New York or Washington to another public Mitzvah wager.”