The Maccabi Tel Aviv basketball team may not have won this year's Eurocup, but the team and its fans had plenty to celebrate Friday night after besting Montepasci Siena, 92-85, to win Game 1 of the Euroleague Final Four in Madrid. Some 1,000 fans, students and members of the local Jewish community decided to toast the surprise victory by attending a Shabbat dinner sponsored by Rabbi Yaakov Gloiberman, director of Chabad-Lubavitch of Lod, Israel, and the European Centre for Jewish Students.

During the game, which ended just one hour before Shabbat, volunteers waited outside the city's Sports Palace to greet the yellow-and-blue clad fans who had flown from Israel and other places around the globe. When they found out what was going on, hundreds of fans who held tickets to the following game between Tau Ceramica and CSKA Moscow chose instead to ride one of a dozen buses to the dinner.

"They were shouting, 'G‑d was with us for this game. And after a game like this, we're running to make Kiddush,' " related Nira Shocket, program coordinator for the ECJS.

Organizers, who had spent weeks planning the event, chose a venue that was close enough to the stadium that people would not travel on Shabbat. Still, the schedule was a tight fit.

"We told them to run quickly," said Shoket, "So a large crowd started racing to the buses."

A fleet of cars, meanwhile, took fans' belongings to their hotel so that they wouldn't have to break Shabbat by carrying their bags home after dinner.

Held at the Palacio De Congresos De Madrid, the evening began with the lighting of Shabbat candles and a Kabbalat Shabbat prayer service. The dinner that followed featured a menu of salmon, roast chicken and a variety of desserts all catered by Rabbi Ramy Banin, director of Chabad-Lubavitch of Venice/Yeshiva of Venice in Italy.

During the services, the ECJS called on everyone to remember and pray for the safe return of three kidnapped Israeli soldiers.

"The candle lighting was very exciting," said Barbara Fiszerman, 25, as she watched the Sunday game where Tel Aviv lost to the Moscow club, 91-77. (Maccabi ended up clinching second place in the tournament.)

"I wanted to have dinner with friends I met in Madrid," added Fiszerman, a business administration student who flew in from Buenos Aires, Argentina. "It was huge. The place was big, and every table was full."

Cameras Off

Rabbi Yaakov Gloiberman, left, helps a fan of the Maccabi Tel Aviv basketball team put on tefillin.
Rabbi Yaakov Gloiberman, left, helps a fan of the Maccabi Tel Aviv basketball team put on tefillin.
Film crews from Israeli media outlets and local television stations struggled to take pictures of the event. But when Shabbat was about to begin, Gloiberman – known in some circles in Israel as the rabbi of Maccabi Tel Aviv – told them to put their cameras away, as taking pictures is prohibited on the holy day. He did, however, encourage them to join the crowd for dinner, an invitation some accepted.

"There was a full Shabbat meal, just like at home," said Banin, who also organized all the food for meals the next day at the Melia Castilla Hotel.

Gloiberman, who has organized similar Shabbat dinners to coincide with Maccabi games in the past, said that the Madrid event was one of his biggest.

"We've been doing this for a few years, in a few places, and it has been proven to be a success," said Gloiberman, a friend of Maccabi team coach Tzvika Sherf. "The principle guideline of this event is ahavat yisrael, brotherly love for another Jew."

On Friday and Sunday, Gloiberman concentrated his efforts on putting tefillin on Jewish fans. Shimon Mizrahi, Maccabi chairman, donned the ritual prayer boxes with television cameras rolling as a way to encourage others to do the same.

"Hundreds of Jews put tefillin on before Shabbat," noted the rabbi. "One fan made a resolution to start putting tefillin on every day."

Fan David Alterin, 27, of B'nei Brak, Israel, said that he had a good time.

"We came from Israel and we got such a feeling of home," said Alterin. "It was even more special than at home."

"It was electrifying," said Shocket, still hoarse on Sunday. "It was just amazing."

For his part, Rabbi Yitzchok Goldstein, co-director of Chabad-Lubavitch of Spain, said the local Jewish community was happy to have such a large and impressive Shabbat dinner in their city.

Said the rabbi: "Madrid felt a tremendous change."