Sunday, February 7, 2010

The Power of a Phone Call

The New York Times features a lovely piece on Alan Shlomo Veingrad, the former NFL player turned Chabad speaker, who travels the country using his NFL fame to promote living a Torah lifestyle. It's not a new story (I blogged about it here), but it's certainly a new angle to the ongoing Super Bowl media blitz.
Yet, something fascinating caught my attention. What brought Veingrad, a NFL lineman living in Wisconsin, closer to Judaism? A business card.
The article begins by telling the story of what connected him to Judaism.
After practice one late-summer day in 1986, Alan Veingrad strode into the Green Bay Packers’ locker room, feeling both spent and satisfied.
An undrafted player from an obscure college, he had made the team and then some. On the next Sunday, opening day of the N.F.L. season, he would be starting at offensive tackle.
In his locker, Mr. Veingrad found the usual stuff, his street clothes and sweat suit and playbook. On a small bench, though, lay a note from the Packers’ receptionist. It carried a name that Mr. Veingrad did not recognize, Lou Weinstein, and a local phone number.
Alone in a new town, too naïve to be wary, Mr. Veingrad called. This Lou Weinstein, it turned out, ran a shoe store in Green Bay, Wis. He had just read an article in the paper about a Jewish player on the Packers, and he wanted to meet and welcome that rarity.
A few days later, Mr. Veingrad joined Mr. Weinstein for lunch at the businessman’s golf club. There Mr. Weinstein invited the player to accompany his family to Rosh Hashana services at Cnesses Israel, a synagogue near the site of the Packers’ original home field, City Stadium.
It had been a long time since Mr. Veingrad had spent much time in shul, nearly a decade since his bar mitzvah. He knew the date of the Packers’ Monday night game against the Chicago Bears better than he did Yom Kippur. “But when I heard the Hebrew,” he recently recalled of that service in Green Bay, “I felt a pull.”
Lou Weinstein isn't a frum guy - at least that's not how it sounds. He was simply a Jew reaching out to another Jew. He took him to lunch, and then invited him to his Conservative shul for Yom Kippur. I doubt Weinstein intended that Veingrad should be frum. He just wanted to share some yiddishkeit with a fellow Jew.
It sounds so simple, and yet it's so intimidating. How many of us would leave our business card in just such a situation? There's a guy who runs a restaurant not ten minutes from my home. Each time I eat there I spend a few minutes chatting. I've thought about inviting him (and his family, if he has one) for a meal some time, and yet I haven't.
Why not? What am I afraid of? I'm not sure.
I guess I'm no Lew Weinstein.