There is a very funny scene in a very funny movie called ‘Airplane’ where a flight attendant is passing out reading material to the passengers and had run out of the more popular ones. She then says to an passenger seeking something to read, ‘How about this leaflet, Famous Jewish Sports Legends’?
The reason that scene is so funny is that the Jewish people are not usually known for their athletic prowess. The names of famous Jewish athletes in the history of all American sports can probably be counted on the fingers of one hand. Well, maybe two hands at most.
Most people know about Hank Greenberg and Sandy Kofax. Some may remember Ken Holtzman and Steve Stone (Funny, three out of four were pitchers… I wonder why). In football there was one player, Sid Luckman who is a legend. He was the Hall of Fame quarterback for the Chicago Bears who in the forties lead them to 4 NFL championships and was named MVP in 1943.
Since then - with a few exceptions some of whom I already mentioned - there has been not been that much to write home about in Jewish athletics. Until today.
The Chicago Tribune has just published a story about Chicago Bears first draft pick - Ofensive Tackle Gabe Carimi. The focus was not so much his athletic prowess – which is considerable - but his commitment to Judaism. He is known as the ‘Jewish Hammer’ whose nickname he adopted from a Jewish character in the movie ‘Inglorious Basterds’.
Gabe is being touted by many as the key to a successful season this coming fall. As a Bear fan I certainly hope so. It’s been a long dry spell since the Bears won the Super Bowl in 85.
What makes this worthy of note for me is the fact that he is not only Jewish – but proudly Jewish. He wears his Judaism on his sleeve. Although he was raised as a Refrom Jew and not observant by Orthodox standards he is serious about his Judiasm. He would never for example ever play on Yom Kippur.
And where was he last Sunday? At a Lag Bomer event sponsored by Chabad Lubavitch of Illinois (see photo above). Lubavitch is great at snaring celebrities for their events. They do it all the time. This is another one of those times.
Why is this important? Because it gives many Jews who are not observant a sense of pride. They they can identify as a Jew with someone else who is Jewish - taking ethnic pride in their achievements in the secular world. Seeking a Jewish heritage often begins by finding positive value in the most unlikely of places. That can lead them to try and find out more about what it means to be a Jew. Especially when a cultural folk hero does the same. Who knows. Maybe some young Jewish football fans who never heard of Yom Kippur may now start fasting on it the way their new football hero does.
And if Lubavitch or some other outreach organizations get a hold of him, who knows? Gabe may someday take his pride in Judaism to an even greater level of commitment. Unlikely? Well it’s happened before.
There was another pro football player that was Jewish. His name is Alan Veingrad. Like Gabe Carimi he too was an Offensive Tackle. First for the Green Bay Packers and later for the Dallas Cowboys where he helped them win Super Bowl 27 in 1993. He is now the proud owner of a Super Bowl ring. He too was proud of his Judaism and started seeking out more of it.
Lubavitch got a hold of him and now he is a completely observant Jew sporting a long beard. Will it happen to Gabe? Will he follow in Alan Veingrad’s path? Will he someday wear a Super Bowl Ring as a Chicago Bear? I sure hope so. It’s time to end the drought.
And perhaps as did Alan Veingrad he too will take his enthusiasm for Judaism to the next level. You never know. In the meantime we can all take pride in this young man for his excellence in sports and his love of Judaism.