Ex-NFL champ speaks on Judaism

Wearing a Super Bowl ring on his finger and a yarmulke on his head, Alan Veingrad said his experience as an ex-player for professional football teams Green Bay Packers and the Dallas Cowboys offers him a unique view on Jewish traditions.

The former professional football player spoke yesterday morning on the relationship between the athletic and spiritual aspects of his life at Young Israel of East Brunswick, a modern orthodox synagogue.

“I think Judaism is a lot like scoring touchdowns,” he said to the small crowds gathered on round tables eating bagels and lox. “There’s a lot of celebrations in Judaism. We celebrate everything.”

Veingrad said his experiences at Hebrew school were dismal, a fact that led him down a negative path early in his life.

“After my bar mitzvah I found myself on the streets of Miami getting into trouble,” he said. “I had more time on my hands.”

He soon began to focus on his athletic abilities, earning a scholarship to East Texas State University and making it onto the All-American football team, he said.

Veingrad said it wasn’t until he became a Green Bay Packer that he began to revisit his religion. Lou Weinstein, a Jewish businessman, had heard of Veingrad making the National Football League and took him under his wing, persuading him to attend religious services and introducing him to the local Jewish community.

“One of the things the Torah says is that it’s a privilege and obligation to always look after another Jew,” Veingrad said. “That’s what [Weinstein] did to me.”

Veingrad said he underwent a massive change in perspective shortly after he beat the Buffalo Bills in 1992 to win Super Bowl XVII with the Cowboys.

“There’s no room for spiritual learning if you’re focused on material things,” he said.

Veingrad said the discipline he displayed during his football career is similar to the demands of learning the Torah, the Hebrew Bible. He immersed himself in Judaism after retiring from football and enrolled his children in an all-Jewish private school.

Michelle Wegodsky, an East Brunswick resident who heard Veingrad talk, said the former professional football player was a relatable speaker for Jews with a secular background.

“I liked the way he talked about the discipline he developed in football, waking up early and everything required of an athlete,” she said. “He compared advancement on the field to advancement in spirituality.”

Veingrad said it was vital for individuals to create a clear focus in their personal lives, inviting participants to consider his story for their own growth.

“You’ve got to zero in on your target,” Veingrad said. “I’m going to ask you [this] question: What’s your target? What do you want in your personal lives, your business lives and your spiritual lives — do you focus on the target?”

Veingrad said Torah Links of Middlesex County, the Jewish community outreach program that sponsored the event, enables people to find their spiritual focus.

“We’ve found over the years that studying more of our heritage has brought people together, even though they might be from different parts of the community,” said Rabbi Shlomo Landau, co-director of Torah Links.

Landau said Veingrad is an inspiration for the Jewish affiliates to whom Torah Links caters.

“A vast majority of our participants are secular,” he said. “We’re trying to make a small dent in the level of ignorance, if you want to call it that.”

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