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The Power of Tradition: Chanuka Lessons from Football

By Rabbi Yaakov Silverman

As we wrap up the festival of Chanuka, I would like to thank everyone that joined us or wanted to join us for our party and hope to see you all soon. In honor of the last day of Chanuka I would like to share a quick thought that the legendary Bill Walsh really helped me understand. The originator of what is now known as the West Coast Offense, Walsh really created a revolution that drastically altered the course of the NFL and formed the game we follow and play. Starting with the weak-armed Virgil Carter of the Bengals, Coach Walsh devised a series of plays to embrace the low-risk short passing game that turned Carter into the most accurate passer in the NFL. From that point on, he successfully turned the least talented of QBs into the best of their respective leagues and colleges. His tenure with the 49ers included one of the greatest of them all, Joe Montana and his successor, HOFer Steve Young. The impact this one man had on the game of football is particularly noticeable when you take stock of the current Head Coaches in the NFL and college. Some of the biggest names are students, both directly and indirectly of Walsh and they include: Andy Reid, John and Jim Harbaugh, John Gruden, Mike Shanahan, Gary Kubiak, Tony Dungy, Jack Del Rio, Lovie Smith, and Mike Tomlin. This style of play developed by this one brilliant man has affected so many players and teams in the broad football world. The festival of Chanuka is different than Passover or Rosh Hashana in the sense that there is no mention of it in the Torah. The events that led to the establishment of these 8 days of celebration and thanks to  G-d for all He does in our lives, happened thousands of years after the Torah was already given to our nation at Sinai. That being said, it is a holiday that is only celebrated because of the tradition our Rabbis began following the miracle of Chanuka. As we celebrate and enjoy our holiday this year, it is crucial to reflect on the difference this tradition has on our lives. Our Rabbis have guided us and changed our relationship with G-d by introducing this time to enjoy with our families and connect to our nation and to G-d with a new level of profundity each year. We need to treasure that tradition for it is what shaped us and created the nation we are today. It is in our best interest to cherish and do whatever we can to learn more about our heritage and pass it on to the next generation in our families and communities so we can continue the great gift of Judaism we have for posterity.

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Context Makes the Man: Torah Thoughts from Football

By Rabbi Yaakov Silverman

Case Keenum has been enjoying the 2017 season more than anyone ever dreamed. Not only is he starting, but he is playing fantastic football. I do not think anyone saw this coming and as St. Louisans it is particularly hard to believe this is the same guy we had here just a few seasons ago. How is he doing it? He started as an undrafted free agent and now is leading the Vikings with an impressive 9-2 record. His salary of $2 million is low even for a backup yet his QBR second in the league. It seems that what has changed for him is his surroundings. He now benefits from superb coaching under OC Pat Shurmer, a former QB coach for Andy Reid’s Eagles and QB coach Kevin Stefanski, a talented football mind that has coached every offensive position for the Vikings. Also, the Vikings bolstered their offensive line this offseason, utilizing the space left by Adrian Peterson and others to protect Keenum. He has great receivers and a solid ground attack and has powered the Vikings through troubled times. This is such a profound lesson for life. As human beings we create limitations for ourselves based on our projected capabilities. We subconsciously set a bar for ourselves and expect only to succeed to an extent. Context can be a gamechanger. If we surround ourselves with moral people, strive to be involved with organizations and communities that are focused on G-d and making the world a better place, and keep close to those that share aspirations for growing Jewishly we can transcend those expectations. Our coaches and supporting staff can propel us way beyond anything we ever thought we could achieve. Chanuka is around the corner. The first night is on Tuesday December 12th. We commemorate and relive a period of time in which the Greek society threatened to ruin everything we held near and dear as a nation. It is a time to reflect on the potency of context and how putting ourselves among other like-minded teammates we can become better people than we ever imagined.

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From Side Lines to Center Stage: Torah Lessons from Sports

By Rabbi Yaakov Silverman
After an incredible first half of the season, Deshaun Watson’s torn ACL stopped him in his tracks. Texans fans and fantasy owners that had vested interest in this young, exciting, and talented QB, must now face the uncomfortable realization that his rookie season is over. All those records he could have broken will remain intact and his success cut short. Injuries like this one happen often in the NFL and usually have devastating results. Seasons end prematurely, fans lose interest, and teams watch promising beginnings dissipate. However, in some instances, the opposite happens. Sometimes when all looks bleak, the surprise rookie, the unknown player, or the struggling journeyman find themselves in the limelight, a position they never had before, and thrive like no one could have ever imagined. Think of one of the greatest QBs of all time, the ageless Tom Brady. He was on the Patriots sidelines in the shadow of one of the greatest New England had ever seen, Drew Bledsode. After Mo Lewis of the New York Jets put a punishing hit on Bledsode, a hit that almost killed him, the Tom Brady era and the Patriots dynasty began. When Bledsode went down, the feeling in Foxborough was one of despair and then this unnamed kid got his chance and is still making the best of it. In the darkest of times there can be the greatest revelations of light. Our Rabbis teach us that before a leader dies, his successor is already born and developing. With a loss comes an opportunity for rebuilding and growth through new paths and untapped potential. As we encounter difficulties in our daily life, be it at work, home, or in our inter-personal relationships, we can view setbacks as challenges, allowing us to have new possibilities for growth and the ability to be people we have always wanted to be. It can strengthen us as Jews and members of the community and can be your calling to take the step from backstage right into the spotlight.

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Finding Your “Playoff Beard”

By Rabbi Yaakov Silverman

A custom has developed in many sports that as playoffs begin so does the beard. Facial hair has become an indication that a team or player is playoff bound. The originator is said to be Butch Goring of the New York Islanders in the 80’s. He may have gotten the idea from Swedish tennis star Bjorn Borg. He used to stop shaving at the beginning of Wimbeldon. The 2009 Redwings did it, 2013 Red Sox (against the Cardinals), and the Ben Roethlesberger did it for Super Bowl XL. What is the significance of this strange practice? There is the idea of unity, that each member of the team puts on beards together and kind of adds that to their uniform. However, I think the more compelling explanation is that when there is a beard growing on your face and you are not accustomed to to it, the first thing you notice when you wake up in the morning, look in the mirror, eat a meal, and walk outside is that new addition to your face. That serves as a constant reminder to severity and seriousness of playoffs. We all need to grow our proverbial playoff beards in our personal lives. Pick one part of Judaism, your connection to G-d, to your community, to your fellow members of the tribe and work on that focus, dedicate yourself to that cause with a drive that is playoff-like. By doing this we can make a bigger and more profound impact on our lives and our communities and help build and affect others and create a better Jewish nation and world.

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Staying Young: Torah Lessons from Baseball

By Rabbi Yaakov Silverman

As the World Series is coming to a close, I noticed something strange about my feelings for the loser of the ALCS. Growing up in Atlanta, I have developed a strong hatred for the pinstriped Bronx bombers. Year after year, I would find myself hopeful of another championship for my city only to have those hopes ruined by the invincible, powerful, and deep-pocketed Yankees. This feeling is shared with many baseball fans across the country. You either love the Yankees or hate them, there is no neutral feelings. This year, however, I noticed a change. I no longer felt any animosity or frustration even as they started winning games and made the playoffs. It seems that I am not alone. The youth and infectious exuberance that Aaron Judge, Gary Sanchez, and co. brought to the table throughout the season swept many Yankee haters off their feet and opened up a new era of baseball. Gone is the professionalism and seriousness. The constant addition of established veterans is no more. There is this core of energetic, friendly, and fun-loving kids guiding and setting the tone for New York. We all go through the natural procession of life beginning full of energy, passion, and dreams and then slowly maturing as we grow more serious and responsible. Youth carries with it a tremendous amount of potential. As a group of young professionals, we need to be aware that now is our time to shine. Act when you still have the strength and energy to do so. Your decisions now will affect your future in a profound and important way. Do not wait until you are over the hill and take on something new. Reach out to your synagogue and offer a hand, be there for your community, develop and cultivate meaningful relationships with your families, friends and G-d. Be like the Yankees and take on the world with your youth and reap the benefits of this time period of our lives that is slowly ebbing away.

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Perseverance: Torah Lessons from Football

By Rabbi Yaakov Silverman

As if the Browns season was not bad enough. LT Joe Thomas, the consistent beacon of hope and slight ray of success tore his tricep and is out for the rest of the season. After 167 straight starts since his rookie season in 2007, 10 Pro Bowl appearances, and an impressive 10,363 uninterrupted snaps, Thomas was finally slowed down and forced to watch from the sideline for the first time in his career. Keep in mind, this streak was done for a Browns team that went through 18 quarterbacks and held a 48-119 record. In our history, we had a leader that impacted our entire nation in a powerful way. Rabbi Akiva began his studying of Torah at the age of 40. He did not have the background and upbringing that are so important to become a Jewish leader. The story is told that he passed by a rock that had water dripping on the same spot over and over and it had bore a hole deep into the rock. When Rabbi Akiva saw that he recognized that, although it may take a long time, even the most impenetrable mind could succeed in the study of Torah as long as there is a consistent and continual attempt at learning. He continued to live by this mantra and after all 24,000 of his students perished, he started again and recreated the next link in the chain of our heritage that we still hold on to today. In our personal lives, we tend to give up and sometimes avoid trying something that may be in our best interest because of the magnitude of the project and the difficulty of reaching the goal. Rabbi Akiva’s lesson rings true and we can do our best to take small steps, with short gains, one snap at a time until we succeed in accomplishing our goals and being better and more elevated people.

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The Words that Sparked a Revolution: Yom Kippur Lessons in Football

By Rabbi Yaakov Silverman

Over a year ago, the starting QB for the 49ers, Colin Kapernick, protested police brutality by kneeling during the national anthem. He created a movement that slowly began to grow and a few vocal members of the NFL joined in protest as well. However, when President Trump lashed out against those that disrespect the flag, the movement became a revolution. According to some accounts, over 1/3 of the league was involved in some sort of protest or demonstration of unity. Some teams did not come on the field at all and coaches, owners, singers, and players joined in a mass demonstration of dissatisfaction with the words of our President.
Regardless of your personal political stance, one point is clear from this developing story and that is until the President spoke his mind, there were only a few protests. Those few words are what began this movement.
Yom Kippur is fast approaching and although it is important to be aware of how powerful our actions are, there is a specific stress placed on the power of words. The first prayer and one of the climaxes of Yom Kippur is the Kol Nidrei prayer. One would expect a meaningful prayer for forgiveness but instead the introduction to the services is a declaration about the nullifying of any vows or oaths. It seems a little out of place.
The ability to creatively express your thoughts is a trait that is uniquely human. No other being can convey such complex thoughts and ideas with the vehicle of speech. Our Rabbis teach us that this is a manifestation of the G-dliness within us. When G-d created man, He gathered together some dirt and blew a small piece of Himself into Adam, the result being the capability for speech. Our job is to utilize that G-dliness to better ourselves and better the world around us. We can chose to use our unique characteristics to hurt people and bring them down, to humiliate and slander, to curse and speak inappropriately, or we can channel this amazing tool to capitalize on relationships, strengthen our bonds with our families and communities, inspire others and express our appreciation for others.
That is why Yom Kippur starts off with a prayer about oaths and vows because it teaches us the energy we can create if we use our gift of speech properly.

2017 Season Begins

Over the past 10 years, since the inception of Torah & Turf, we have been working hard to improve the program and expand it to other cities all over the United States. In 2016, 4 additional cities joined the program. We also hosted our first-ever Torah & Turf National Tournament & Shabbaton in St. Louis with 30 guests from  6 different cities. After that, other cities began to call and express interest in joining and putting together their own local teams.

THIS year, we are thrilled to announce that 15 cities have hopped on board. Locally (in St. Louis), we now boast 6 different teams. We are estimating the guest list to increase to 100-115 guests for this year’s upcoming 2018 national tournament in January! We are excited about the growth and look forward to more opportunities for growth in the future!

Now, 5 exhilarating words to leave you with:

The. 2017. Season. Has. Begun!!!!!

Exciting New Developments for 2016 Season

In the 2015 season, Torah and Turf was made up of four energetic teams. Over the offseason we have been enthusiastically planning to expand our league and add some new teams. We have at least six teams lined up for the 2016 season. The Red Team has split and there is a brand new team joining. There is a possibility that the JCC will organize a team as well, which would contribute an entirely new group of young pros for us. With the Rams moving on, Torah and Turf will be forced to find a new home for our Torah Bowl. However, there are plans for an exciting end of the season, multi-city tournament. Torah and Turf is going national! Six cities have eagerly accepted our offer to coach them through opening their own Torah and Turf program. We hope the best team from each league will compete for the coveted title of Torah and Turf National Champions.