The sharp sound of a whistle signaling a time-out cuts through the air in American Airlines Arena, home of the Miami Heat. The game stops, and the cameras focus in on a courtside menorah. A moment later, Cantor Yossi Lebovic’s voice booms over the public address system as he sings the blessings in preparation for the lighting of the candles.

Welcome to Jewish Heritage Night with the National Basketball Association’s world-champion team, the Miami Heat. The annual Chanukah event draws thousands of Jews from across southeast Florida, a heavily Jewish area all the way from West Palm Beach County through Broward County down to Dade County.

The evening, pioneered by Chabad of Southwest Broward’s Rabbi Pinny Andrusier, has inspired dozens of Chabad centers around the country to partner with their local professional sports teams to bring the holiday of Chanukah to mass audiences. From the NBA’s Orlando Magic to the National Hockey League’s Nashville Predators, Jewish pride stands to shine in unlikely venues.

“The Rebbe—Rabbi Menachem M. Schneerson, of righteous memory—charged us with spreading the light of Chanukah,” explains Andrusier, who organizes the Miami event. “What better place to do that than in front of a sold-out crowd at a sports game?”

This year’s Jewish Heritage Night in Miami takes place on Tuesday, Dec. 3. It includes a pre-game party, Jewish music playing during the game and a half-time show featuring the Jewish Argentinean band KEF (meaning “fun”).

As a part of the evening, a group of children from the Jewish community will have the chance to shoot hoops with Miami Heat players and stand next to them during the singing of the national anthem, which will be performed by 14-year-old Akiva Shechter of Miami.

But the Heat isn’t the only team hosting a Chanukah event in Miami. A few days beforehand, Andrusier—or “Rabbi Pinny,” as he is widely known—will host “Chanukah on Ice” with the NHL’s Florida Panthers, featuring the popular a cappella musical group the Maccabeats, all the way from Yeshiva University in New York.

“Between the first and second periods, we’re going to light a beautiful ice menorah on the rink,” adds Andrusier.

Pride in Their Heritage

Some 250 miles north, in Orlando, Fla., Rabbi Levik Dubov of Chabad of Greater Orlando is also gearing up for a Chanukah Jewish Heritage Night with his home basketball team, the Magic.

Cantor Yossi Lebovic’s voice will again boom over the public address system at American Airlines Arena, home of the Miami Heat.
Cantor Yossi Lebovic’s voice will again boom over the public address system at American Airlines Arena, home of the Miami Heat.

“It’s an amazing way to publicize the miracle of Chanukah in a huge way,” he says. “When are you going to have the opportunity to address 20,000 people at one time?”

Over in Tampa Bay to the west, Rabbi Mendy Dubrowski of Chabad of South Tampa is partnering with the local Tampa JCC and Federation in coordinating their fifth Jewish Heritage Night with the National Hockey League’s Tampa Bay Lightning, where team owner Jeff Zinick will help light the menorah put up outside the arena.

“The event is an opportunity for Jewish people from across the community to be able to celebrate their holidays and traditions,” says Dubrowski, “and give their children pride in their heritage.”

CTeens Join The Nets at Barclays Center

Teens from 34 Tri-State Chapters of CTeen, the Chabad Teen Network, and their families will be on hand December 3 at Barclays Center in downtown Brooklyn to celebrate the holiday as the Brooklyn Nets tip off against the Denver Nuggets.

The program will include pre-game high five lines and ball delivery by Jewish Heritage Night participants, the national anthem will led by Benny Friedman, and there will be a grand menorah lighting at center court. The Maccabeats a capella singing group will be featured at the halftime show and kosher food will be sold throughout the game at the arena's kosher food court.

A Little Chanukah Rivalry

This year, Rabbi Aryeh Kaltmann, co-director of Chabad Lubavitch of Columbus, Ohio, will hold a Chanukah celebration for the first time with the NHL’s Columbus Blue Jackets. The last time the Blue Jackets played at a Chanukah event was two years ago in the home arena of their division rival, the Nashville Predators.

“Chabad of Nashville held a Jewish Heritage Night on that Chanukah—and the Predators won,” notes Kaltmann.

With Columbus scheduled to play Nashville again this year—but this time at home and with a menorah by their side—the rabbi predicts a different outcome. “This year, with G‑d’s help, the Blue Jackets will be victorious!”

But division rivalries are put on hold for Chanukah, and in Nashville, Chabad of Tennessee director Rabbi Yitzchok Tiechtel is planning his fifth Jewish Heritage Night with the Predators.

“We get such an amazing reaction,” he says. “Nashville is not New York; people here are not used to seeing Chassidic Jews. So when we’re out there bringing the light of Chanukah and the Jumbotron is playing Jewish music, it really makes a huge impression. I get stopped on the street constantly in the days following the event.”

From the Lone Star to the Big Apple

When a YouTube clip of a group of rabbis dancing around a menorah on the NBA’s Houston Rockets’ court came out last year, it quickly gained popularity. This summer, Omri Casspi—the NBA’s first Israeli basketball player—signed on with the Rockets, adding another layer of excitement to the festivities, which are organized by Rabbi Moshe Traxler of Chabad Outreach of Texas.

Rabbi Mendy Dubrowski of Chabad of South Tampa is partnering with the local Tampa JCC and Federation in coordinating their fifth Jewish Heritage Night with the NHL’s Tampa Bay Lightning.
Rabbi Mendy Dubrowski of Chabad of South Tampa is partnering with the local Tampa JCC and Federation in coordinating their fifth Jewish Heritage Night with the NHL’s Tampa Bay Lightning.

“We’re going to have a meet-and-greet with Omri Casspi after the game,” says Rabbi Chaim Lazaroff, who is serving as a promoter of the event. “We’ll be lighting the menorah in the plaza near the arena, and then an electric menorah will be wheeled out onto the court during half-time. People are really excited.

“The purpose of this event is two-fold: Jewish pride and publicizing the miracle of Chanukah. We want people to be inspired to go home proudly and light their own menorahs, and for the general public to be able to celebrate the meaning of freedom of religion.”

Other NBA teams planning Jewish Heritage Nights include the Atlanta Hawks, the Dallas Mavericks and the Brooklyn Nets.

“This has become the premier Chanukah event in the city,” declares Andrusier, referring to the Heat game. “I think it sends a great message when you see that we won the last two championships here, and yet we’re able to come here and have a beautiful Chanukah celebration.

“And at the end of the day, what can be better than some hot latkes and LeBron James?”