From football to frum
Alan Veingrad lived an American boy’s fantasy. From 1986-92, he was an offensive lineman in the National Football League, first for the Green Bay Packers, then for the Dallas Cowboys, playing alongside such stars as Troy Aikman, James Lofton, and Emmett Smith. Veingrad is the proud owner of a Super Bowl ring for his participation in the Cowboys’ 1992 victory over the Buffalo Bills.
But that wasn’t enough.
These days, Veingrad, who was elected to the National Jewish Sports Hall of Fame in April, goes by the name “Shlomo.” He spends most of his time speaking to Jewish organizations about his experiences and how they now pale in comparison with his love for Judaism. It is a story he will share at an appearance at the East Brunswick Jewish Center on Thursday, Jan. 21.
Veingrad began his career as a motivational speaking while still with the Packers, talking to kids about the dangers of drugs. Now it’s primarily Jewish groups, “from black hats to Chabad to yeshivas to Hebrew day schools, Young Israels,” he told NJ Jewish News in an interview.
Veingrad recently spoke to high school students in Montreal about diversity. “You have 600 eyes looking at you. You have no idea of what they’re digesting. When I was finished they asked the most thought-out questions about my life today, not about my life yesterday.”
He said the football seems trivial to his “greater purpose.”
“My talk is about growth, it’s about my journeys, it’s about taking a step in life, about doing more in our lives. You always strive to do more. To be a successful football player, you always had to do more. No one is watching you; the coaches aren’t asking you to do it, but you have to do more to be successful. It’s the same thing in religious life. The concern comes in when you’re not doing more, when you’re at the status quo.”
Born in Brooklyn in 1963, Veingrad and his family moved to Englishtown when he was three and then to Miami in 1971. Like many young Jewish kids, his early experiences with religious instruction bordered on the unpleasant. “You went to Hebrew school and you don’t like it and it wasn’t fun but you go because your parents make a check next to a task that is a requirement in their eyes,” he recalled. Once that obligation is fulfilled, “they [generally] don’t bother you again.”
Veingrad has come to his Jewish observance relatively recently. “I think it’s a combination of things,” he said. Encounters with rabbis over the years made him take stock of his spiritual needs. Veingrad was grateful for past successes, but realized “there has to be more meaning to life.”
As a player, he wrote an advertorial sponsored by the American Jewish Committee, one of a series in “What being Jewish means to me.” Veingrad described his unique status, how he was the object of proselytizing in college, and how he would say his own silent Jewish meditation when his Cowboy teammates recited the Lord’s Prayer before taking the field. “In the rough and tumble environment of an NFL team, a Jew is an outsider.”
For more information, including time and ticket prices, contact the East Brunswick Jewish Center at 732-237-7070.