Meet the real-life rabbi who starred in Drake’s latest video

Meet the real-life rabbi who starred in Drake’s latest video

Last week, Drake dropped a dancey new album, Honestly, Nevermind, and unless you live under a gigantic rock, you probably heard all about it. He also released a music video for one of his newest songs, “Falling Back.” In the video, Drizzy marries 23 different women in a wedding ceremony officiated by Toronto rabbi Ari Sitnik, whose small role made a big splash online. We tracked down Sitnik and asked about his overnight rise to rabbinical superstardom.

In the video, you officiate Drake’s wedding. But you weren’t just acting. You’re the real deal, correct?
I’m an Orthodox Jew and I’m ordained as a rabbi, but I don’t officiate anything in real life. I actually work in tech support as a computer specialist, and I live with my wife and four sons near Bathurst and Sheppard. 

So how does an IT guy land a role in a Drake video?
There’s an entertainment group in Toronto called the Magen Boys. It’s run by twin brothers who organize parties and bar mitzvahs. They’re very nice guys. I met them when they put on an event in my community. Through them, I got connected to Director X, the director of the video. I guess Drake wanted a real rabbi for the production. They contacted me, and of course, I went for it. I was surprised and excited. 

You had a few crucial lines in the video. Are you trained as an actor?
Not at all. When people tell me, “Good acting,” I say, “I didn’t act—I was being natural there.” The director asked me to look Drake and his brides in the eyes and ask the questions, so that’s what I did. 

But, over the years, I’ve been an extra in a few other shows, mostly made-for-TV stuff filmed in Toronto. In 2001, I was looking for work, and outside of a synagogue in Thornhill, I noticed an ad seeking men with beards to play Hasidic Jews in background roles. That led to doing a movie called Crown Heights with Howie Mandel in 2003. It wasn’t a speaking role: I sat in a synagogue, watched a basketball game, and pushed a stroller down the block. For Drake’s video, I was just expecting to stand there and look Jewish. When they told me I was going to be speaking, I got very nervous. Director X and I came up with the lines on the spot.

Did you get to talk to Drake?
Not as much as I wanted to. We briefly talked about our lines and how we wanted everything to look. He was positive, nice and very professional. I really wanted to get to know him more, but he was in and out of the room very quickly. With all the takes combined, we were probably in the room together for an hour, but there was no time to make chit-chat. We were working. He’s tall, my goodness, about six feet. I’m only five foot six. I was a little bit starstruck. I know how big he is in the music world.

Is it safe to assume you’re a fan?
I’m more familiar with his work on Degrassi, but I didn’t follow it religiously, if you’ll allow for the joke. In the 2000s, when the show was airing, my wife and I would watch it before bed. She taught me about the connection between Aubrey Graham the actor and Drake the musician. I did listen to his cellphone song, “Hotline Bling,” when it first came out. I don’t know if I ever stopped to listen to the lyrics, but my kids certainly enjoyed it.

What was it like on set?
They filmed my part on Sunday, May 29, in a ballroom at the Royal York. They originally wanted to shoot my part on Saturday and Sunday, but I’m not allowed to work on Saturdays because of the Sabbath. So we shot both of my parts on Sunday, and for that, I owe some gratitude to Director X. 

I was on set for 11 hours, from 1:30 p.m. to 12:30 a.m. the next day. There were probably 100 people on set, including extras and the production crew. And I wore my own outfit: standard slacks, white shirt, Borsalino fedora and a long black coat. The only things they gave me were a tie and shoes. They didn’t like the ones I had. The production company also got me a Kosher dinner—pasta primavera from the Chicken Nest, at Bathurst and Lawrence. 

Sounds pretty cushy. How much do you get paid for a gig like this?
I can’t disclose that. But let’s put it this way: I don’t think I can quit my day job. It was roughly the market rate for a background actor.

The video racked up more than nine million views in less than a week. Is it safe to say you’re the most famous rabbi in Toronto right now?
There are rabbis way more well-known than I am. But, certainly, I have the most media exposure at the moment. People are talking—I’m getting lots of opinions, lots of feedback. Most of it has been positive. To my sons, I’m the cool guy who got to interact with a big star. In the Hasidic community, Drake is known, but maybe a bit less than in the outside world.

I have seen some negative stuff on social media, mostly on Facebook. They say that Drake marrying 23 women, having a polygamous relationship, is demeaning to women. But it’s just a story. Drake wanted to express a connection to his Jewish roots, so he chose to put a rabbi in the video. There’s so much antisemitism and ignorance these days. I thought this would show Orthodox Jews in a positive light. That’s why I wanted to participate.

Is there anything in the Torah that says you can marry 23 different women at once?
There’s something in the Talmud, an addition to the Torah, that discusses a man marrying multiple women at once. So is it possible? Yes, it’s possible. But would the final law allow it? Not really. There’s been a rabbinical decree for a thousand years that a man should be married to a single woman at a time.

There was also some negative reaction to the album being mostly dance music. What do you think of that?
Isn’t an artist allowed to change, innovate and diversify his work? I think art is all about new, novel ways of expressing your creativity. Kudos to Drake for doing that.

Since you’re an ordained rabbi, is there a chance the ceremony was real and Drake is inadvertently married to those women?
No, since I’m not registered as an officiant in Ontario, it wasn’t sanctioned by the province. As for the religious part, it was missing a few things necessary for an official wedding ceremony, like a proper witness, a proper declaration from Drake and his wives, and written contracts.

That’s probably a good thing. Imagine the alimony! So where do you go from here?
I don’t have any other gigs lined up. I know there are some limitations with my look—I will not shave my beard or take off my yarmulke. But whatever comes up, comes up. So far, I’m back to normal life. I didn’t expect it to be such a big deal. For me, it was a paying job. I was asked to go into a room and film a scene. Although it was a ton of fun.