Constable: Deerfield's 'The Great Rabbino' promotes wresting and Judaism
As a high school senior in Deerfield, Jeremy Fine was an honorable mention all-state basketball player who averaged nearly 23 points a game. As the promoter behind 2econd Wrestling, Fine is friends with ring stars Colt Cabana, Super Atomic Thunderfrog and Koko B Ware. As a credentialed journalist, Fine has covered the Super Bowl and the Final Four. As a podcaster, Fine conducted a touching interview with Bob Saget. As the founder and CEO of The Great Rabbino Media and Events, Fine has interviewed everyone from basketball great Nancy Lieberman to the legendary Mel Brooks.
Those things are all just a small part of his real gig.
"One-hundred percent of my focus in on my congregation," says Fine, who will be officially installed Saturday morning as rabbi of Congregation B'nai Tikvah in Deerfield. "One-hundred percent of my time is spent doing rabbi things."
Hailed as one of America's Most Inspiring Rabbis by the Jewish news organization The Forward, the 40-year-old Fine has a history as a progressive rabbi in Conservative Judaism.
"I think that I have a deep desire to move the needle forward, without neglecting tradition," says Fine, who was ordained in 2012 from the Jewish Theological Seminary, and spent two years in Israel studying at the Conservative Yeshiva and the Machon Schechter Institute. But he also got a certification in fundraising from New York University, got a degree in not-for-profit organizations from St. Thomas University, took a quality service course from Disney and became an accredited Life Coach in 2020.
"There are things about the Jewish world I've studied that my colleagues have not," Fine says.
As a rabbinical student, Fine remembers a large gathering talking about the differences between the Orthodox, Conservative and Reform branches of Judaism. "Even though I wasn't supposed to raise my hand, I did," Fine says, recalling how he appreciated some religious differences, but wondered, "Why do we socialize differently?"
Teaching a class on modern Jewish law, Fine challenged students. "'That's the way it's always been done.' I'm not big on that," he told them. Just as music has done, religion must keep up with the times, says Fine, who notes, "Sister Sledge and the Bee Gees aren't pumping out hits anymore, but music is still thriving."
Growing up in Deerfield, Fine was more interested in sports than religion as the son of Nan and Marc Fine, who still live in Deerfield. His younger sister, Dana Blitzstein, always was an excellent basketball player.
But even as a 6-foot-3 scorer for Ida Crown Jewish Academy, who drew some attention from smaller college basketball programs, Fine's goal was to become a college basketball coach. At the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, where he majored in speech and communication, Fine served three years as president of Illini Hillel, the foundation for Jewish campus life, and realized his destiny was to become a rabbi.
In 2009, he married Jessica Fine, who went to Deerfield High School and is now a math teacher, and the couple have daughters, Annie, 9, and Trudy, 7. In 2017, he became the senior rabbi at Temple of Aaron in St. Paul, Minnesota.
A wrestling fan as a boy, Fine promoted a wrestling show though his synagogue, and raised funds and community spirit.
"It was the single best interfaith program I've ever seen," Fine says of the event which attracted 400 people on a Wednesday night during a blizzard. "An old man said, 'Oh, man. I haven't been to a synagogue since my bar mitzvah," Fine says. For many of the wrestling fans, it was the first time they had talked with a rabbi.
He remembers non-Jewish wrestlers asking about the mezuza, a piece of parchment containing Torah verses in Hebrew in a decorative case affixed to the doorjamb. "If we stay in our bubble, we never truly understand each other," Fine says.
He started TheGreatRabbino.com and blog as a simple way to tell stories about Jewish athletes. "One morning I woke up and had 12,000 hits," Fine says, explaining how anyone who saw Julian Edelman of the New England Patriots win the MVP award and Googled, "Is Julian Edelman Jewish?," ended up on his website.
Now he books Jewish athletes and celebrities for fundraisers, and hosts his The Religion of Human Nature podcasts with famous guests. He became a friend with guest Bob Saget, who talked with Fine about parenthood in an episode a few months before Saget died unexpectedly at age 65 from a head injury after a fall. "I know very few people who love as hard as he did," Fine says.
Fine brought Rachel Brosnahan and Kevin Pollak from "The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel" to a Minnesota fundraiser. And interviewed comedy legend Mel Brooks for another.
"By interview I mean Mel Brooks made fun of me for a solid 20 minutes. A great honor of my life," Fine says.
He brought in David Koechner of "The Office" and the "Anchorman" movies for a fundraiser in Deerfield, and did a YouTube piece where Rainn Wilson of "The Office" interviewed Fine.
Wearing a red Nike hoodie and a black White Sox cap ("I don't know who the Cubs are and have never heard of Wrigley Field," Fine says), the rabbi says he'll keep exploring new ways to make faith accessible.
"I won't stop being innovative. What is it at the core of our community that will engage? That's my job, to extract the core," Fine says. "Change is going to be OK."