Dear Mr. Schwartz,
When I first heard that you, an offensive guard for the New York Giants, are planning on playing against the Dallas Cowboys on a game unfortunately scheduled to begin after sunset on Sunday, Sept. 13, the first night of Rosh Hashana, I have to admit that I was a bit crestfallen.
I know that when you were a college freshman on the University of Oregon team, you took a day off for Yom Kippur. When I heard that the NFL had ignored the Giants' request to reschedule the game, I was hoping for another Sandy Koufax-like headline that I could show to my kids. I could imagine the cameras on the Goodyear blimp zooming out from the billion-dollar Texas stadium during a timeout and zooming in to a local synagogue as they got a nice close-up of you swaying to Avinu Malkeinu.
But then I second-guessed myself. I tried to imagine what it must be like to be a caring and committed Jew as a player in the NFL. I started to ask some serious questions. What are a player’s responsibilities to the team? What would it mean, in a setting where sacrifice and loyalty is valued even above physical safety, to sit one out? Would hearing the blasts of the shofar on Monday morning feel different if you felt like you had, even in the smallest of ways, let your teammates down?
Knowing how intense the rivalry has been between the Giants and the Cowboys, I started to think that maybe, if I were somehow blessed to have my childhood dream to play in the NFL come true, I would make the same decision that you made.
I joked to my friend Adam Oded, a native of Passaic and a lifelong Giants fan, that at the very least we should send you a nice juicy piece of brisket to enjoy in the locker room. But Adam loves nothing more than disagreeing with me, so he suggested that instead of sending brisket we should send a crate of apples and some local honey. This way, he argued, you could share a quintessential Rosh Hashana food with your teammates. And that is when I had the vision:
You know how on Thanksgiving telecasts of the past, John Madden would serve a real turkey after the game and give one of the legs to the most valuable player? How great would it be if during a national broadcast the players might take a break from their bitter rivalry to dip apples and honey and wish their Jewish fans and teammates a Shana tova u’metuka? Imagine the impact were all the viewers to see their gridiron heroes enjoy the moment of double sweetness that happens when people welcome in the Jewish new year.
It would be historic. Professional football teams have been playing on Thanksgiving since the 1890s. Why not let 2015 — or 5776 in the Hebrew calendar — be the first time Rosh Hashana entered into the mix? The TV crew would have a field day creating the popping, spinning 3-D “Happy Rosh Hashana” graphic where slices of apple, like footballs, soared through the air and landed in an end zone of honey. At halftime, crates of apples and jars of honey could be brought out in old-fashioned wheelbarrows while Phish’s cover of “Avinu Malkeinu” blasted on the loudspeakers. It would be good for the Jews. It would be good for America’s apple-growers and beekeepers. And it would be good for the NFL. Coming off a sour season of domestic violence scandals and head injury inquiries, the league might appreciate a blessing for a sweet new year. Can’t a rabbi dream?
This vision is dependent on network executives and league officials and probably a bunch of other folks who determine what is in and out of the broadcast. So that’s why I am writing you, Mr. Schwartz. Adam and I will be sending you a little care package of apples and honey the week before the game. Our hope is that there will be some moment that night when you can share the seasonal ritual with your teammates and wish them a year of sweetness and success.
And if you have the urge to tweet it out to the world, amazing. And if not, I still wish you and your family and the entire Giants team a year of health, happiness, connection, and growth.
L’chaim, and may the Schwartz be with you.
Rabbi Daniel Brenner