The turning point in Alan Veingrad’s life came in 2003, a decade after he retired as an offensive lineman with the Super Bowl champion Dallas Cowboys.
That year he reflected upon a newspaper story which talked about his life 10 years after leaving the National Football League. While raising his family, Veingrad was also spending a lot of time fishing, scuba diving and practicing martial arts.
He felt after reading the article that his life needed more meaning and purpose, so he went about making some changes.
The family started to go to shul on Shabbat and spent a lot of Friday evenings at a number of rabbis’ homes. He realized that by becoming observant, he could easily incorporate the feeling from Friday night into other days of the week.
Raised in a typical Jewish household in Brooklyn, N.Y., the New Yorker’s family celebrated various holidays with a focus on the meals. He said he had his first authentic Shabbat dinner a year after retirement and attended a Torah class a week later as final payment on a medical debt to a Miami radiologist cousin.
He asked the rabbi for reading material after the class and continued attending for the next six or seven years, interested in the weekly inspiration and messages found in the parshah, more than anything else.
“It inspired me to continue learning and growing as a person,” he said.
“After both those experiences, I realized there was more going on in life than football, golf, and fishing,” he said in a recent telephone interview. Veingrad spoke to The CJN while en route to Las Angeles, where he had three scheduled speaking engagements with Jewish day schools as well as Young Israel of Century City. Affiliated with the Chabad-Lubavitch movement, he has spoken in the last few years at more than 100 Chabad institutions, yeshivot, and Jewish day schools.
Veingrad, who now goes by his Hebrew name, Shlomo, began wearing a yarmulke and tzitzit for the first time in 2004 on a plane ride to Israel, and has kept them on as part of his daily attire ever since. Due to family, work, and speaking engagements, he has not been able to make a return trip.
The 45-year-old began his speaking career while playing with the Green Bay Packers, who signed Veingrad as a free agent after he went undrafted as an All-American out of East Texas State, now known as Texas A&M.
At the time, his brother was a DARE [Drug Abuse Resistance Educator] Officer with the Metro-Dade Police Department and in the off-season asked him to come to schools and speak at their graduation. The theme was usually centred around saying “no to drugs.”
After 86 games, spanning five years with the Packers and a couple in Dallas with the Cowboys, the 6-foot-5, 270-pound lineman retired from the game and felt he had a story to tell.
Residing in Fort Lauderdale, where he sells commercial real estate, Veingrad recalled speaking to a group of both Jews and non-Jews in 1994.
“I wasn’t really doing much with my own personal spiritual growth at the time and it wasn’t until I started to be a Shomer Shabbos, keep all the observances, that my speaking career started to take off,” he said.
For the past five years, Veingrad has been in demand across North America.
“I have a number of different messages depending on the speech I’m giving,” said Veingrad, who spoke three times in Toronto over a weekend in the fall, and has been to Canada on five separate occasions over the past couple of years. “The bulk of my message is always around people that are really just like I am, grew up very secular, have an interest in Judaism, however, they are maybe apprehensive or haven’t really grown that aspect of their life or their relationship with G-d.
“I just want to encourage people that I lived one lifestyle and now I’m living a completely different lifestyle. Everyone should open themselves up and embrace Judaism and grow with Judaism at their own pace.”
In speaking about his journey, Veingrad also likes to talk about incorporating exercise into one’s life and eating right, one of the challenges he says the observant world faces.
“It’s been neglected,” he said. “It’s a real problem. One can serve G-d better with better health and a better diet.”