What does modern Jewish dating look like during a pandemic? Meet. Pray. Love. Return of the Love Rabbi is a new documentary that aims to answer that question.
Ahead of its Saturday night premiere on CBC Television, an advanced screening took place last week at the Rohr Chabad of NDG—which happens to be the Montreal base of operations for the Love Rabbi himself.
Rabbi Yisroel Bernath got wider recognition due to a 2017 documentary, Kosher Love:
(You can also stream Kosher Love in its entirety.)
It proved popular enough to merit this sequel, which is similarly directed by Evan Beloff.
The sequel paints a realistic picture of the trials and tribulations of searching for love… at a COVID-safe distance.
Initial inspiration came from contemplating the rules of shomer negiah—an Orthodox tradition which forbids a man and woman to touch before marriage, and how the pandemic guidelines mirrored that.
After all, while the lockdowns were going on, initial dating for everyone generally meant not being physically present in the same room.
The cast includes an eclectic array of Montreal locals—and I mean eclectic—from a quirky cat-lady, to an eccentric rap artist with an overbearing fortune-telling mother.
And these are genuinely real people, too. One of them was in the room, and I can confirm she was exactly as she appeared on screen.
Also in the film is a young woman who observes Shabbat, struggling to find someone who was religious yet modern. Another storyline that involves a queer woman dating long-distance.
Beloff explained that his production didn’t involve any staged scenes or manipulated drama like you’d typically see on reality TV.
Rabbi Bernath confirmed this was true, although he felt that the team took some creative liberties with the material. (He didn’t see the final product until a few days before the premiere.)
Meet. Pray. Love. portrays his one-on-one meeting with singles that took place on his front porch, or on Zoom.
We also get glimpses into the homes and neighborhoods of the singles. Rav Alice Frank also meets with one, encouraging them to try a less conventional approach than the one offered by Rabbi Bernath.
And while the Montreal locations aren’t emphasized, in order to keep the film universal, I appreciated the nods to local hotspots like the Orange Julep—where the rapper participant is shown filming a music video and going on a practice date.
But what I found most interesting is that the documentary doesn’t pretend that finding love is an easy feat.
Many of the individuals involved had personal blocks or closed-mindedness about who would fit the vision in their heads. Rabbi Bernath wasn’t afraid to point that out and best try to coach them into broadening their perspective.
Overall, the doc focuses way more on the process than the product. “There’s more questions asked than answered,” says filmmaker Beloff.
And sometimes, it simply doesn’t work out.
“You can’t be hungrier than the people you’re trying to help,” says Rabbi Bernath.
After many years of matchmaking, it’s a lesson he’s had to learn the hard way, too.
He explained that’s why many of his congregational rabbi colleagues avoid making matches. If the plans go awry, the rabbi is the first to get blamed.
“It’s not good for business.”
Still, the Love Rabbi feels an obligation to try anyway, since there aren’t so many Jewish matchmakers in Canada.
In his view, the job is to make shidduchs. After that it’s up the individuals to create the Happily Ever After.
Meet. Pray. Love. Return of the Love Rabbi is now streaming for free via CBC Gem. More information can be found at the film’s website.
For more, watch the complete Q&A session from the screening:
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