"From football to faith," the TV reporter begins, "you've heard that before....But this story is different. You are about to meet a former NFL player from Miami who has to be the only ultra- Orthodox Jew who wears a Super Bowl ring when he prays."
And thus begins a lovely but superficial story on NBC6 in Miami about Alan Veingrad, a former player who helped lead the Dallas Cowboys to Super Bowl victory in 1993. In the parlance of Orthodox Jews, Veingrad became "frum."
My friend Elli Wohlgelernter, an Israeli journalist who alerted me to the piece, found it somewhat maddening. Elli writes:
"They feign some kind of admiration, but obviously, they have no clue what being frum means, so what are they admiring? I'll tell you - the exotic nature of Haredi Judaism. Would these reporters have done a story on a modern Orthodox Jew like you and me? Doubt it.
"But when you have a visual of a long beard juxtaposed next to a shot of a Super Bowl player - well, in TV land, it's a no-brainer. Did they ask one in-depth question? I didn't see it.
"I've met Veingrad, and he's very serious about his religion - which is more than we can say about the TV story."
What they do show are the externals, all described in the clever language of trades. Not only did Veingrad trade "football for faith," he traded football pads for tefillin, his helmut for a yarmulke, Lambeau Field for the the Chabad House of Coral Springs, a place that "restored the camaraderie he lost on the football field." Along the way, we are told, "he lost 55 pounds and added a beard." Virutally the entire piece is shot in the synagogue, with Veingrad studying and praying. Elli adds:
"Because Vinegrad is so articulate, and speaks out often about his transformation, he could give them the great sound bites they wanted and needed, and they can make it look like a serious story."
It not only looks like a serious story, the reporter and his anchor tell you it is at the end. "He's the real deal," the reporter says.
"What a great piece," the anchor intones.
Not so fast. Even the most Orthodox Jew spends only a few hours a day in synagogue. What else does it mean to live an Orthodox life? Has it changed Veingrad's daily routines? What about the kosher foods he eats? What about Sabbath observance? What about his relationship to his fellow man and woman?
What these reporters failed to grasp is that religious transformation runs deeper than the visuals.