As a high school student at Deerfield, Jeremy Fine was an honorable mention all-state basketball player who averaged nearly 23 points per game. As promoter behind 2nd Fight, Fine is friends with ring stars Colt Cabana, Super Atomic Thunderfrog and Koko B. Ware. As an accredited reporter, Fine has covered the Super Bowl and the Final Four. As a podcaster, Fine did a touching interview with Bob Saget. As founder and CEO of The Great Rabbino Media and Events, Fine has interviewed everyone from basketball great Nancy Lieberman to legendary Mel Brooks.
These things are only a small part of his real gig.
“I’m one hundred percent focused on my congregation,” says Fine, who will be officially installed on Saturday morning as the rabbi of Congregation B’nai Tikvah in Deerfield. “One hundred percent of my time is spent doing rabbi stuff.”
Hailed as one of America’s most inspirational rabbis by Jewish news agency The Forward, Fine, 40, has a history as a progressive rabbi in Conservative Judaism.
“I think I have a deep desire to move the needle forward, without neglecting tradition,” says Fine, who was ordained in 2012 from Jewish Theological Seminary and spent two years in Israel studying at the conservative Yeshiva and at the Machon Schechter Institute. But he also earned a certification in fundraising from New York University, earned a degree in nonprofits 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 that I have studied that my colleagues haven’t,” 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 certain religious differences but wondered, “Why do we socialize differently?”
Teaching a class on modern Jewish law, Fine challenged the students. “‘That’s how it’s always been done.’ I’m not a fan of that,” he told them. Just as music has done, religion must keep pace with the times, says Fine, who notes, “Sister Sledge and the Bee Gees are no longer releasing hits, but the music is still flourishing.”
Growing up in Deerfield, Fine was more interested in sport than religion as the son of Nan and Marc Fine, who still live in Deerfield. His younger sister, Dana Blitzstein, has always been an excellent basketball player.
But even as a 6-foot-3 scorer for Ida Crown Jewish Academy, which caught the eye of smaller college basketball programs, Fine’s goal was to coach college basketball. At the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, where he majored in speech and communication, Fine served three years as president of Illini Hillel, the foundation for Jewish college life, and has realized that 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 Chief Rabbi of Temple of Aaron in St. Paul, Minnesota.
A childhood wrestling fan, Fine promoted a wrestling show at his synagogue and raised funds and community spirit.
“It was the best interfaith program I’ve ever seen,” Fine said of the event, which drew 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.” For many wrestling fans, this was their first time speaking with a rabbi.
He remembers non-Jewish wrestlers asking about the mezuzah, a piece of parchment containing Torah verses in Hebrew in a decorative case affixed to the doorframe. “If we stay in our bubble, we’ll never really understand each other,” Fine says.
He started TheGreatRabbino.com and his 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 the New England Patriots’ Julian Edelman win the MVP award and googled, “Julian Edelman is- he 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 celebrity guests. He became friends with guest Bob Saget, who spoke with Fine about parenthood in an episode a few months before Saget died suddenly at age 65 of a head injury after a fall. “I know very few people who love as much as he does,” Fine says.
Fine brought Rachel Brosnahan and Kevin Pollak of “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel” to a fundraiser in Minnesota. And he interviewed comedy legend Mel Brooks for another one.
“By interview, I mean Mel Brooks laughed at me for a good 20 minutes. A great honor of my life,” Fine said.
He brought in David Koechner of “The Office” and the “Anchorman” movies for a fundraiser in Deerfield, and did a YouTube play 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 I’ve never heard of Wrigley Field,” Fine says), the rabbi says that he will continue to explore new ways to make faith accessible.
“I won’t stop being innovative. What, at the heart of our community, will engage? That’s my job, to extract the core of it,” Fine says. “Change is going to be OK.”