By Larry Gordon
Rabbi Shalom Lew

This essay is mostly for sports fans, and luckily many of our readers are exactly that—big sports fans.

About a week ago, those who traveled to Cancun, Panama, and Boca Raton for the famous pressurized No Yeshiva Week (NYW) returned home, just as some others are getting ready for the trip to Arizona for the big game, the Super Bowl between the Kansas City Chiefs and Philadelphia Eagles.

I am a longtime sports fans but I have almost no interest in traveling to Arizona—even though the weather will be great—for a football game. Some years ago—let’s say about ten—I went to a Monday Night Football game between the New York Jets and the Miami Dolphins at Met Life Stadium in the Meadowlands. I really did not know what was going on until I reviewed the last play on the giant TV screen that hangs above the stadium.

For frum sports fans, it’s not just about rooting for your hometown team (even if you no longer live in that hometown and haven’t for decades). It’s as much about who is going to be victorious as what you are going to eat that is kosher during those games.

The big game is on Sunday, February 12 at State Farm Stadium in Glendale, Arizona. So what does a frum fan do in a situation like this? Well, I turned to the local Chabad shliach in order to get a grasp on how they are dealing with the good fortune of their city hosting the Super Bowl.

“On Monday before you called,” Rabbi Sholom Lew told me over the phone, “I received about 15 calls about our plans for Super Sunday and the Shabbos preceding the Super Bowl.”

Rabbi Lew has been in Glendale, Arizona, for 22 years. He added that other shluchim are calling him as well about food and Shabbos accommodations for some of their members and supporters in various communities. He adds that he has received an inordinate number of calls from people in Philadelphia about Shabbos and Sunday plans for the week after this one.

We can deduce from our conversation with Rabbi Lew that a lot of shomer Shabbos people are very serious about their football and about their cholent and kugel, as well as, of course, a minyan over Shabbos.

Rabbi Lew says that for him it is a matter of hashgachah pratis (Divine intervention) that State Farm stadium was built in Glendale where his Chabad House is located. The stadium, which is where the Arizona Cardinals play their home games, was built in 2006. The Rabbi says that the stadium is about eight miles from Chabad, so staying at a hotel near the stadium and then walking to Chabad on Shabbos is not a doable plan.

Rabbi Lew adds that in terms of Jewish life, Arizona has changed dramatically over the last two decades. Today there are caterers with kosher certification from Chabad scattered around the state, from Phoenix to Scottsdale to Glendale.

On a routine Shabbos, his Chabad House hosts 70 to 80 guests, so hosting people on Super Bowl Shabbos would not be that much of a change. Considering, however, that the stadium is somewhat of a distance from the Chabad House and not in the city, that means improvising on the triple play of minyan, kosher food, and going to the game on Sunday evening.

While we are on the subject of the big game, let’s take a step back and try to figure out what drives people to such an extent that they will spare no expense to be at the Super Bowl. The impression exists that attending the Super Bowl is not for the average person. The capacity of State Farm stadium in Glendale in 63,500 seats. Rabbi Lew mentioned the other day that at this point in time acquiring even what he refers to as “a nosebleed seat,” can run as much as $7,000 per seat.

I’m trying to say that if you are calculating how much money going to the Super Bowl will cost you, you probably do not belong there. If you are thinking of going it means that you just returned from Cancun or Panama for No Yeshiva Week—but there you go, displaying a little more opulence (is that an oxymoron?).

A few years ago—pre-pandemic for sure—I received a photo of a group of about seven or eight people I knew posing in front of the private jet that was to transport them to the Super Bowl, which was in a domed stadium that year, I believe in New Orleans.

The assumption is that when someone sends a photo to our e-mail address it is not for my personal perusal but to be considered for publication. Anyway, it didn’t take an hour before I began receiving frantic phone calls beseeching me not to run the photo. One of those who called explained that it was a mistake to send the photo to the newspaper, that it was a gaudy display of people essentially advertising that they will be at the Super Bowl that year—and you will not.

Rabbi Lew is listing a number of projects associated with the big game that he is considering implementing when I say to him that he has to have known for years that the game was going to be in Glendale. This is no small matter for a city. It’s a big boon for local hotels, restaurants, and so on. A piece of business like this can sustain a city for quite some time.

The Rabbi informs me that there is a high-level Chabad high school in his community that presently has about 50 teenage students. One of the plans is having those young men host a glatt kosher tailgate party in the parking lot—as is the tradition before all games, big and small—and offering people over bar mitzvah to put on tefillin and make a berachah on the tefillin.

Another dimension of the Super Bowl aura is that here on the East Coast the game begins at 6:30 p.m. For American students who are studying in yeshiva in Israel, that means the game begins at 1:30 a.m. local time and will probably not end before 4:30 a.m.; sunrise is about 6:30 a.m. I reached out to a few young men who are studying in Israel at various yeshivas this year about their plans for the game and pretty much heard that if you are interested in being up all night for a football game, you are basically on your own.

I think most of the hype for this game emanates from the States and mostly stays here. If you are a football fan learning in Israel for the year, finding out the final score the next morning is sufficient.

If you are in Arizona next week for the Super Bowl there is an array of kosher restaurants and caterers that can provide you with Shabbos food, party food, or both. One of those is Kitchen 18 in Scottsdale. Their menu includes the all-important Super Bowl chicken wings, including lime, barbecue, charif, mango habanero, and kickin’ bourbon flavors. Then there are chicken poppers in the same flavors plus much more.

Just like NYW, if you did not make Super Bowl plans for Arizona yet you will probably be closed out of just about all of the above, except the Sunday-morning minyan at Chabad in Glendale. Super Bowl weekend is not for everyone; NYW is much more manageable. For most, the choice is a large-screen TV or just finding out the score the next morning. 

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