Back when the coronavirus pandemic began spreading through North America in March, professional sports abruptly ground to a halt. Basketball resumed months later in what is referred to as the “bubble”—a closed-off isolation zone of hotels, arenas and workplaces centered on the ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex in Orlando, Fla.

Two days before Rosh Hashanah, Rabbi Dovid Dubov had his hands full getting ready. There were socially-distanced services to organize, outdoor shofar-blowings to schedule and Rosh Hashanah gift packages to deliver to community members staying at home for the holiday. Dubov, program director for Chabad-Lubavitch of Greater Orlando, had hardly a moment to spare.

Then the phone rang.

It was an official with the National Basketball Association (NBA.) There were Jews who would be stuck inside the bubble for Rosh Hashanah: Could Chabad help out?

It wouldn’t be easy, thought Dubov, but, of course, the answer was yes. And when they reached out again days before Sukkot as the NBA Finals were beginning, the answer remained the same.

To enable games to go on safely, virtually no one enters the bubble without a seven-day quarantine period. Back on Sept. 16, with Rosh Hashanah beginning in 48 hours, that meant there was no way for Dubov—or anyone else from the outside—to personally lead the services. So as he’s done so many times in the months since the pandemic struck,and as thousands of other Chabad-Lubavitch emissaries have done during these tumultuous times, he improvised.

“We gathered machzorim, yarmulkes, tallisim, holiday food and put it all in boxes,” Dubov told Chabad.org. “And we gave them a step-by-step guide on how to do everything in order, how to fulfill everything they could on their own.”

Hours before the holiday began, Dubov and several other volunteers brought a boxed Rosh Hashanah to the bubble, where they were met by officials who shuttled the packages into the isolation zone, where they made possible a holiday observance in extraordinary circumstances.

NBA basketball has resumed in what is referred to as the “bubble”—a closed-off isolation zone of hotels, arenas and workplaces centered on the ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex in Orlando, Fla.
NBA basketball has resumed in what is referred to as the “bubble”—a closed-off isolation zone of hotels, arenas and workplaces centered on the ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex in Orlando, Fla.

The Mission Remains the Same

While Rosh Hashanah was the first Jewish holiday during the bubble’s existence—and consequently, the first time Chabad of Orlando has been asked to help—bringing holiday joy to Jewish people, wherever they are, has long been a hallmark of Chabad.

In 1953, the Rebbe—Rabbi Menachem M. Schneersohn, of righteous memory—launched the shofar campaign, encouraging the key observance of the holiday to be brought to people who wouldn’t be able to make it to synagogue. In the years since then, the shofar has been sounded millions of times in hospitals, prisons, in parks, on street corners—anywhere Jews might find themselves on Rosh Hashanah.

And it’s not just the shofar. The Rebbe launched campaigns to bring Jews matzah for Passover, menorahs for Chanukah, the four mitzvot of Purim, and sets of the lulav and etrog for Sukkot. In Orlando this year, Dubov will send lulav and etrog sets into the bubble as well as other Sukkot supplies.

Packing honey cakes, machzors and other supplies before Rosh Hashanah. They are back at it for Sukkot.
Packing honey cakes, machzors and other supplies before Rosh Hashanah. They are back at it for Sukkot.

The particulars of the individual situation might change, but the mission remains the same: to help Jewish people do mitzvot wherever they are.

As far as Chabad of Greater Orlando, it’s not their first foray in bringing Judaism to professional basketball. For each of the last five years, they’ve held Jewish Heritage Night with the NBA’s Orlando Magic on Chanukah, bringing the light of the menorah to tens of thousands of fans.

This past Chanukah, more than 1,000 Orlando Jewish community members joined 20,000 other fans to watch as Orlando Magic president Jeff Weltman lit the menorah.

With fan-packed stadiums a distant memory six months into the pandemic, Chabad of Greater Orlando has continued to provide for local Jews—whatever the need, wherever the place.

“We are proud that the NBA put its trust in Chabad,” said Rabbi Sholom B. Dubov, executive director of Chabad of Greater Orlando. “They knew we would provide for their High Holiday needs in a way that would not only be spiritually enriching, but hygienically and safely prepared with the highest standards during these unprecedented times.”

“The Bubble”
“The Bubble”