The Teshuva Journey: From The Super Bowl To The Shabbos Table

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 michaelgros@gmail.com To receive the column via email or see back issues, visit http://www.michaelgros.com

(published in The Jewish Press April 20, 2007)

19 comments on “The Teshuva Journey: From The Super Bowl To The Shabbos Table

  1. Anonagirl,
    I agree completely with Leah L’s comment. When we’re becoming frum, Hashem doesn’t want us to completely cut ourselves off from our past, our interests and what makes us unique. Instead He wants us to channel those items and do them in a particular way.
    Talking to a Rabbi to find a solution is a great idea. Rabbis experienced in working with people on their teshuva journeys can often think of innovative solutions to problems such as these.
    We have a four-and-a-half year old son who absolutely loves horseback riding. I showed him a photo of a Rabbi (Reb Lazer Brody) riding on a horse, and he was ecstatic.
    Good luck finding a solution!

  2. “Rabbi Langer of Chabad Shliach of SF has been dubbed the Rally Rabbi by the SF Giants”

    What brocha does he give to Barry Bonds?

  3. Anonagirl-I don’t think you need to take an all or nothing approach in the least, especially this early on. Just do the learning that you can do and take on the mitzvot that you can take on. And goodluck.

  4. Dear Anonagirl,

    Please don’t let your love of horses and horseback riding stop you from taking on Mitzvos!!! I suggest you talk to an Orthodox rabbi to see what accommodations you can make to incorporate mitzvos observance into your life and still maintain your hobby, especially in the area of attire.

    For instance, there may be some allowances for safety aspects of horse back riding, and therefore the attire would be acceptable or there could be compromises. Think about the range of occupations that women are involved in that require safety attire, ie., long pants. Perhaps you can think about looser slacks versus the skin-tight variety.

    If you don’t own the horse and have to take care of them, you will find you are a lot less restricted than you think. There are halachic considerations for caring for animals on Shabbos on Yom Tov. You may have to accept that you can’t ride on Shabbos and Yom Tov days, but don’t think you have to give up riding!

    I made one mistake with my tennis in assuming I wouldn’t be able to play because I can’t wear fancy tennis outfits anymore. That should NOT be a reason to give up something you love. Find a way!

    Talk to a Rabbi. I’ll tell you a secret. They aren’t so scary.

    I love your post, because I sense you really want to find a way but just haven’t yet discovered how. :-)

    P.S. I have close family members (non-frum) directly involved with horses (thoroughbreds) and I know how captivating these animals are.

    LeahL

  5. Rabbi Langer of Chabad Shliach of SF has been dubbed the Rally Rabbi by the SF Giants, and will be giving away a bobblehead of the rally rabbi blowing the shofar.

  6. sigh. Very inspirational but… one of the things that stops me from the BT route is my love of horses and horseback riding. Start with the tznius issues. It is not safe to ride a horse in a skirt, unless one rides sidesaddle, and that requires *years* of practice — the first few years in riding breeches, not a skirt — and a good instructor, but very few riding instructors know anything about sidesaddle. The people around most barns are 95% women, but there are those occasional men.

    I don’t compete and I don’t even own my own horse, but that simple pleasure I get from riding is worth so much to me.

  7. Actually, the ONLY NFL team that plays in NY is the Buffalo Bills.

    The Jets practice in NY (for now)…and the Giants do have owners named Tisch!

    Marty

  8. Don’t forget Dmitry Salita, the boxer.

    Also: the real Jewish football team in NY is the Jets (we’re talking a Leon Vs. a Wellington here, plus the signing of nice Jewish boys from LI e.g., Fieldler)

  9. Marty,

    Absolutely right!

    This twigs a memory for me. I spent decades playing tennis. I was a tennis junkie from the time I was big enough to swing a racquet.

    Old age, bad knees and a life-altering experience had me hang up my racquet for good about six years ago.

    In the two years prior to that, I was, frustratingly, the President of a busy 500-member tennis club where no one was ever happy, and criticism and complaints abounded. Maybe that’s what put me out of tennis too, ultimately.

    Nevertheless, on a quieter day in my final year there, after a nice relaxing hit on the court, a fellow tennis player, knowing me for always being involved up to my eyeballs in something or other, asked, “So, whatcha gonna do when you’re not the President anymore?”

    I was at a loss. I had no idea.

    About a year or so after that, I stumbled on the path to teshuvah, which is what really put me out of tennis. There just wasn’t any time for it anymore, with my priorities completely changed and so many more pressing matters taking over my life.

    I miss it sometimes, but not so much. Too much emphasis on winning, competition and beating the other guy, all irrelevant in the Torah scheme of things.

    Plus, I have these very bad knees….

    LeahL

  10. It’s funny, but since I am a NY Giants fan, I told him that..and it was kind of ironic, as the Giants had told him they would sign him to a contract, but I guess it never happened. I think that’s what he told us @ the lecture.

    Leah, I guess you could say she’s on Hashem’s team!

    Marty

  11. Martin-
    Yes, Alan is very down-to-earth and just a fun guy to speak to. He has plenty of other inspiring and entertaining stories that couldn’t fit into the column.

    Leah-
    You’re right, it is very exciting hearing about high-profile people becoming frum. When people like sports stars, actors, comedians etc. who are admired by secular society become frum, it is a tremendous kiddush hashem and helps bring more Jews back. Alan speaks around the country for shuls, students groups, etc., and says that people often tell him that if he could become frum, they can also.

    I assume the cheerleader you’re talking about is Sandy Wolshin Mendlowitz, who was a cheerleader for the LA Raiders. Here’s a link to a great article she wrote about her journey on Aish.com:

    http://www.aish.com/societyWork/women/The_Rabbi_and_the_Cheerleader.asp

  12. Shalom Michael,

    As a former sports reporter and big time sports fan (in my pre-BT life), I always appreciated stories about Jewish athletes, like Sandy Koufax refusing to play on Yom Kippur. But stories about Jewish athletes or celebrities who became BT — forget it! Those are the best!!!

    In Toronto, we had a fella who was a top NHL prospect and destined for a great hockey career. But the rabbinate in Israel got him instead and that’s where he is now, quite a renowned Rabbi and scholar.

    I also heard about a former Dallas Cowboy cheerleader who became BT.

    It is so wonderful to hear about high-profile people turning toward Judaism rather than away from it, like so many do.

    Thanks!

    LeahL

  13. Laura (my youngest) and I had the pleasure of meeting Alan at an EMET function in Forest Hills last summer. He is really a down-to-earth guy, and his story is very inspiring. Here is someone who made changes mid-stream in life, and is all the better for it, and is looked up to by anyone who has been in his situation, and even those who are FFB.

    Marty

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