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How Julian Edelman became a Jewish hero

Julian Edelman is a touchdown for Jewish identity.

Americans More Likely to Say God Rewards Devout Players than Determins Fate of Entire Teams. Graphic courtesy of PRRI

Mazal tov, New England Patriots!

Mazal tov, Julian Edelman!

If the Jewish world could have done so, it would have broken out into a spontaneous hora. Julian Edelman is the first Jewish football player to win Super Bowl MVP.

You would need a helmet to protect you from all the kvelling.

There was another very public Jewish Super Bowl personage — Adam Levine.

There have been no such public proclamations of Jewish pride in Levine.

Just sayin.’

When was the last time that Jews were so proud of a sports hero?

In 1965, when Sandy Koufax refused to pitch on Yom Kippur.

Koufax won eternal fame for the game — that he refused to play. That moment became a badge of pride for Jews — the evidence that we were still an am kadosh, a holy people, that knows and understands holiness.

Back to Julian Edelman. Why does he matter to Jews?

First: the “Edelman moment” is a moment of Jewish empowerment.

At first, I wondered aloud: shouldn’t we American Jews be beyond this? Shouldn’t we have gotten over that decades old game of guessing who’s Jewish, and upon knowing, taking pride in them — simply because they are Jewish.

David E. Kaufman called that practice “Jewhooing:”

…the habit of citing Jewish celebrities—“ Didja know, Natalie Portman is Jewish!”—is characteristic of many Jews, and the persistent behavioral quirk has even been given a name: “Jewhooing.” The puckish term befits an activity that some see as ethnocentric and crass—one might even object that it is not a fit topic for a serious study of American Jewish identity. But this book intends to be just that, proceeding from the assumption that Jewhooing, while embarrassing to some, is really just the tip of the iceberg and points to a deeper relationship between Jews and celebrity overall.

No act of Jewhooing was as famous, and as musical, as Adam Sandler’s “Hanukkah Song”,  in which he regales the audience with a list of celebrities who happen to be Jewish.

Or, sort of Jewish.

Or, Jew-ish.

No such worries with Julian Edelman. He is a Jewish Jew.

To quote the Times of Israel:

In a 2014 game, for instance, he wore a pin featuring the Israeli flag. He has tweeted about Jewish holidays. He even went on a Birthright-style trip to Israel, and has written a children’s book that references modern-day Zionism founder Theodor Herzl. After the Pittsburgh synagogue shooting in the fall that killed 11, he wore special cleats with Hebrew on them to honor the victims.

Our Jewish pride in Julian Edelman is more than the old ethnic pride. It is far deeper than that.

It is the pride that we take in a Jew who is unafraid to be publicly Jewish.

When you consider the difficult year that American Jews have endured — especially the horror in Pittsburgh — you can understand why we danced inwardly at Edelman’s achievement.

He has shown that a Jew can be very much out in the world, doing something that the folk would have branded “un-Jewish” (a game that revels in physical violence!),  but being very Jewish without the need to, well, play defense.

We need more Jews like Julian Edelman.

The second reason: the nature of Julian Edelman’s Jewish identity.

There are vast segments of the American Jewish community, and its leaders, who do not believe that Julian is Jewish. The reason: his father is Jewish, not his mother.

And yet, Julian’s Jewish “career” speaks volumes about what it means to be Jewish in our time.

He was not raised with an affirmative Jewish identity.

And yet, he took on that identity.

I wrote in Putting God on the Guest List:

Once, at a place called Mount Sinai, the Coach gathered us together, saying, “OK, you, Cohen, Schwartz, Goldberg, even you, O’Malley (whose descendants will someday join the Jewish people through conversion). Here’s the plan. Go out for the long pass. I throw the ball to you, you catch it, then throw it to your kids, who will throw it to their kids. That is how the ball gets passed from generation to generation.

The ball has gone from Israel to Spain to Germany to Poland to Russia to Northern Africa. All of our ancestors had his or her own way of catching the ball, of running with it, and then throwing it. Certain generations fumbled the ball, and almost let it slip through their hands. But they never completely lost the ball.

Never forget that you are playing on a team that is larger than the people you see before you. It is a very, very big team.

Never let down your team members. You may not know them. If you do, you may not like some of them. But they need you, and you need them, for the ball to continue being passed through the generations.

And, never let down the Coach.

When Julian Edelman’s father threw him that “ball,” he caught it.

Perhaps, because he never forgot the identity of the Coach.

So, yes: we American Jews needed the Julian Edelman moment.

As we say: yasher koach (may your strength increase)!