January 2016

Super Bowl Champ Tackles Israel Advocacy

by Yaffi Spodek

What do professional athletes do after they retire? Just ask Super Bowl champ Alan Veingrad of Boca Raton. While many players struggle to adjust to life off the field, others launch successful second careers, drawing on the talents they honed as athletes and applying them towards meaningful causes. Veingrad certainly falls into the latter category and now works at AIPAC, the Jewish community’s leading pro-Israel lobbying group. But the road he took to get there was full of surprises at every turn.

“You finish your career as a professional football player and it’s like ‘Now what?’” said Veingrad, a former offensive lineman for the Green Bay Packers and Dallas Cowboys. “I had no more coaches, no more playbooks, no more itinerary, schedule or locker, and I was looking for meaning.”

When the 6-foot-5 athlete retired after winning Super Bowl XXVII with the Cowboys in 1992, capping a seven-year career, he felt something was missing from his life. After a relative invited him to attend a Shabbat meal and Torah study class, he reluctantly obliged, and that initial exposure was a life-changing experience for him.

“I realized I was starved for inspiration,” Veingrad said. “When I heard the rabbi speak about having a purpose in life, it struck a chord in me. I was always interested in personal growth and striving to be the best, in my football career and beyond, and I realized that Judaism might be the answer. Instead of thinking of the Torah as a history book, the rabbi explained that it was an inspirational roadmap for Jews, and I decided to follow that road.”

After a 10-year journey, which included a transformative trip to Israel, Veingrad chose to settle in the heart of South Palm Beach County’s Jewish community. Despite his low-key personality and attempts to lead a life largely out of the spotlight, Veingrad still holds the distinction of being the only person in the world who wears a Super Bowl ring (and Rolex watch he received from the Cowboys’ star running back Emmitt Smith) and a yarmulke. He has spent the better part of the last two decades successfully balancing that dichotomy and frequently shares his inspiring story with audiences around the world, touching upon themes that are pertinent to both sports and religion.

“When I speak, my message is all about striving for personal excellence and growth,” he said. “If you believe in something and have a passion for it, whether it’s football or Judaism, you want to invest your time and energy to make it work. When you get beat, don’t get down and if you miss one play, get up and don’t miss another. Learn from your mistakes so you won’t make them again and they can propel you forward. I’m a lifelong learner and I’m always trying to become better. Judaism gives us the tools to become better people.”

Beyond those personal goals and his quest to find spiritual fulfillment, Veingrad was seeking a job that would provide professional satisfaction as well. He held executive-level business development positions in the commercial real estate and financial services industries, and later enjoyed a successful stint as a sales director in the corporate sector. But he wanted to do more. “Between the NFL, my growth in Judaism and my business experience, I felt like I wanted to be doing more for the Jewish community, but I didn’t know what,” he said.

When a friend mentioned an opening at AIPAC, the job sounded like an ideal way for Veingrad to tap into his business skills while simultaneously channeling his growing passion for Jewish communal work. Fast-forward two years and Veingrad is now the Fellows Manager for the Florida region of AIPAC, where he is responsible for coaching and managing the AIPAC Fellows, a mission-driven sales team deployed in key regions across the country to facilitate the achievement of AIPAC's annual fundraising goals.

Veingrad says he has found his niche at AIPAC, where he uses his talents in a unique way and draws on many of the skills he perfected in the NFL.

“It’s about commitment, sales, drive and motivation, and it’s such a meaningful job, where I use a lot of the skills I learned over the past 25 years,” he said. “I love mentoring these energetic young people – going out on the road with them and coaching them in how to conduct themselves when recruiting donors for AIPAC. There is a lot of rejection, but we celebrate every victory because we are doing holy work for Israel. Just like in the NFL, where you need to be disciplined, for the AIPAC fellows it takes hours and hours of work and it’s about putting in the time and paying attention to details, through repetition, practice and being positive.”

His young protégés at AIPAC are thriving under his leadership and guidance.

“Alan is incredibly motivating and disciplined and is always pushing us as individuals and as a team to do our best and go out there and make a difference for Israel,” said AIPAC Fellow Jonah Nagrotsky. “He has such a unique Jewish background, and we are so lucky to be working with him and learning from him.”

Veingrad, who is known to some by his Hebrew name, Shlomo, is a member of the Boca Raton Synagogue (BRS), where he enjoys the “warm, welcoming atmosphere and the variety of prayer services and learning opportunities,” he said. “It’s easy to live a Jewish lifestyle here, with kosher food nearby and day schools that my children attended.”

He is also a valued and respected member of the community.

“There are very few people I know who have the pedigree of Alan Veingrad, but it’s that exact unique pedigree that makes him such a resource and inspiration to our community,” said Rabbi Philip Moskowitz, Associate Rabbi at BRS. “His history in the NFL, coupled with his vibrant Jewish lifestyle, allows him to be a special role model for us and our children. Alan is a genuine and relatable person with a great smile and a great sense of humor. We feel so blessed to have him in our community and are so appreciative of his dedication to promoting Judaism to the masses.”