He’s probably the only observant Jew to own a Super Bowl ring and one of the few Jews to ever play in the NFL. However for Alan Veingrad the journey back to his roots after his retirement was more exciting than any game on the field.
Alan played for five years as an Offensive Lineman on the Green Bay Packers, and then joined the Dallas Cowboys in 1991. It was with the Cowboys that he became the proud recipient of a Super Bowl XXVII ring, from their 1993 win.
After retiring in 1993 Alan faced a problem common to former NFLers: he had a complete loss of what to do with his life. Players in the NFL are constantly on the go and are always surround by teammates, so often have trouble filling their time when they retire.
“You go through this major void in your life,” Alan said. “I know players 10, 15 years out of the league who are still in the void. Where’s my locker, my itinerary, who are we playing next?”
During this period Alan and his wife received an invitation for a Shabbas dinner from a cousin who had become religious. It was their first authentic Shabbas experience, but wasn’t quite the life-changing moment one would expect.
“Throughout the meal he was talking about the parsha of the week. … Each of his four kids were giving over Dvrai Torah that they learned in school that week,” Alan said. “I was eating the Teriyaki Salmon, the brisket in large quantities. I was so focused on consuming food I wasn’t involved at all in the discussion. Nothing inspired me.”
After dinner, Alan’s cousin asked him if he would be interested in attending a local class given by a Rabbi. He accepted out of obligation. The class was held the following week in a mansion close to the Veingrads’ Florida home.
“For the first 59 and a half minutes of the 60 minute class I was so consumed with the location, this beautiful mansion hosting the class. I had never seen a house like this! I kept thinking, ‘Is this house worth four million or five million or six million?'” Alan said. Thirty seconds before the class ended, the Rabbi suddenly began talking about envy and materialism. He said if you let yourself be consumed by jealousy, it will only lead to emptiness and a complete void in your life.
“How did this rabbi know what I’ve been thinking for the last 59 and a half minutes?” Alan thought to himself.
The class ended, and Alan ran up to the Rabbi.
“Hey, I need more information about what you’re talking about!” Alan said. The Rabbi told him to come back the following week for the answers, and after that Alan began attending the class each week.
Over the next several years in the class, Alan began learning about Judaism’s focus on self-improvement and ethics, and especially its lessons for being a better spouse and father. He had always been interested in motivational tapes and books, especially those from famous athletes and coaches. He never imagined that he would find these lessons in his own religion. He always thought the Torah was just a history book, but when he discovered its deep focus on personal change, he jumped at the chance to learn more.
After a few years Alan and his family joined a local Chabad synagogue and were touched by the welcoming members and the warmth of the Rabbi’s family. The people Alan met were truly living the lessons he had learned in his class.
The camaraderie in the synagogue helped Alan fill the void he felt in his post-NFL life, and it would soon play an even more important role. Alan’s father passed away a few months after he became observant, and Alan was at a complete loss of what to do. He didn’t know how to organize a Jewish burial and mourning. The community rushed in and took care of all the arrangements, including providing meals for Alan and his family for the first few weeks.
“No teamwork I had ever seen in the NFL matched what I experienced in that little Chabad house in Fort Lauderdale.”
Throughout his life, Alan’s father had so much pride that his son had played football in the NFL. He carried Alan’s football card in his wallet, and showed it to everyone he met.
A few months before his death, he said something to Alan that would stay with him forever. He said he could really see amazing differences in his son and grandchildren since they had become religious. Because of this he was more proud to see his son in a yamacha than he had ever been to see him in his football helmet. “That was so powerful to me,” Alan said.
For each of us, every day is a Super Bowl. The real test is not how we perform for thousands of adoring fans, but how we treat our spouses, our kids and those around us. And while no one will ever receive a Super Bowl ring for this, we all have a chance to be MVPs in our own lives.
The Teshuva Journey is a monthly column by Michael Gros chronicling amazing teshuva journeys and inspiring kiruv tales. To share a story or send other
comments, email firstname.lastname@example.org To receive the column via email or see back issues, visit http://www.michaelgros.com
(published in The Jewish Press April 20, 2007)