The only orthodox Jew wearing a Super Bowl ring
FORMER NFL OFFENSIVE LINEMAN BRINGS INSPIRATIONAL
MESSAGE TO JOHN F. KENNEDY HIGH SCHOOL
MONTREAL, NOVEMBER 16, 2009- Alan “Shlomo” Veingrad, a former offensive lineman with the National Football League’s Dallas Cowboys and Green Bay Packers, was a special guest speaker at John F. Kennedy High School in St. Michel November 13.
After his retirement, Veingrad became an ultra-religious Jew. He has become known around the world as the only orthodox Jew who wears a Super Bowl ring when he prays. His message is inspiring to audiences of all religions.
With remarkable candor and alacrity, Veingrad kept his student audience spellbound with his accounts of the intense training, ruthless competitive atmosphere, and performance requirements of professional football life. He relayed his personal breakthroughs and accomplishments during his five years with Green Bay and two years with Dallas, playing for legendary coach Jimmy Johnson alongside Hall of Fame quarterback Troy Aikman and record-breaking running back Emmitt Smith.
Relating his experiences as a professional athlete, a sales and marketing executive, and an observant Jew, his presentation brought the audience laughter, inspiration and valuable insights into both life and business. A captivating speaker and storyteller, Shlomo described how the lifestyle he fell into after his retirement from professional football left a void that unwittingly led him to the Torah and Mitzvos.
Veingrad confessed that he did not know a lot about Judaism even when he got university. “Being the only Jew on the team people always asked me questions,” he said. “I did not have the answers. So I called my mother. She did not know either and she called her mother. My grandmother always had the answers. I was raised like the majority of Jewish people in this country. You go to the synagogue, you become a bar mitzvah, and the bar mitzvah should be the entrance into Judaism. It was the exit out of Judaism for me, as it is with most Jews. . . . Okay, it’s this holiday or it’s that holiday, let’s have dinner together, let’s do this. But we didn’t focus on the spiritual aspect of the holiday. We just focused on the family getting together and the food. You tell me the holidays from 25 to,30 years with my family, I’ll tell you what we had to eat and that’s kind of where it stops. Now I can tell you what we had to eat, I can tell you a whole lot more about what the holiday means to the Jewish people and what does it mean to me, how I can become a better person.
“Before I was exposed to Judaism, I never knew about all the inspirational messages in the Torah,” Veingrad continued. “As an athlete, I listened to motivational tapes about inspiration, motivation, about being positive. I thought Judaism focused a lot on family and holidays and getting together. I didn’t know much about the spirituality. I thought Judaism was all history. I didn’t know about the different holidays and what they mean until I started to learn and realized it is the most inspirational thing ever. It’s all about inspiration. Every holiday and every Shabbat there’s so much inspiration. Now as an adult and starting to understand that Judaism is so focused on the positive in life, I said sign me up. The Torah is mine as a Jew. I want to know about it.”
Veingrad also related how his family reacted to his change in lifestyle. “You have to remember I was a football player and all my family were huge fans,” he remarked. “ My big brother is a police officer who has a shrine in his house to all my football stuff. It was traumatic for him, when I became Torah observant. You know – just imagine two brothers going out for a beer and now I’ve taken a different role in life. Yet his pride in his Judaism has just swelled after seeing
his little brother change. My mom comes for Shabbat and holidays. She has always wanted more
yiddishkeit in her life.
“For my dad though it was hard. He was so proud of his son the football player. He used to go to a sports bar every Sunday and record all my football games – he made tapes of every game I played It took him a while to get over it. I started asking my dad to come to shul with me but he said no. “That’s your life – not mine. That’s what you do.” We’d get together and one time he came to dinner on Rosh Hashanah with the community at shul. And he really enjoyed himself immensely. He came another time when we sponsored Kiddush for my son. My dad died in 2005 and before he died he said to me, “I miss when you played football, but you know – I am prouder of you with your yarmulke on than I ever was when you had on a helmet.”
Veingrad’s visit to Montreal was sponsored by Congregation Chevra Kadisha B'nai Jacob - Beit Hazikaron in Snowdon, the Sally and Norman Raicek Lecture Fund and the EMSB. The decision for him to address the students at John F. Kennedy High School was chosen specifically as an outreach exercise. EMSB Commissioner Syd Wise, who was on hand for the talk, told students about a program which was introduced four years ago aimed at sensitizing non-Jewish students to issues related to the Holocaust. At the time, students from Laurier Macdonald High School in St. Léonard were twinned with their counterparts at Bialik High School in Côte Saint-Luc for a program which culminated in renaming the former Wagar High School building as the Giovanni Palatucci Facility. Palatucci was a member of the Italian Police who saved Jews from the Nazis during the Holocaust. Commissioner Wise said he was elated to see the reaction students had to Veingrad’s message. “It is by bringing in speakers like this thatin the case of the Jewish community we can expose you to inspiring individuals and stories,” he said. “This talk is indeed part of a process we have continued with a wide array of different programs at schools since the Palatucci ceremony.”
While in town Veingrad appeared at a special Shabbaton at the Chevra Kadisha B'nai Jacob - Beit Hazikaron, spoke at services and later a special Shabbat celebration geared towards those aged 18 to 36. On his final day in town he led an NFL football clinic at Macdonald Park, open to the community. Rabbi Dan Erdvin, youth director at the synagogue, coordinated the visit.