From Rose Bowl to Rashi
The Murrays tell the beautiful story of their spiritual journey from being youth leaders in a Christian church to choosing Torah and Judaism. Read of their challenges, frustrations, joys, and eventual fulfillment in becoming their true selves.
Posted on 15.07.22
As I stood on the steps of the mikvah, for a moment I contemplated the life-changing event that was before me. I knew that in a few short moments, after emerging from the mikvah, I would be a new person, a Jew, having a new soul, and a new destiny in life. I wondered what my wife was feeling at that moment. Wow, have we traveled on an arduous spiritual journey together! Working to travel from evangelical Christianity to Orthodox Judaism, we would soon reap our reward, after ten years of intense study. This, after being committed Christians, raising our six children in the church environment and serving as youth pastors. But our ever-increasing list of questions and discontent with the answers given forced us to seriously question what we believed. Being individuals with an intense thirst for truth and seeking intimacy with Hashem, slowly, slowly we began to see that Judaism held the answers.
The adrenaline I felt running into “the Horseshoe” for The Ohio State University Buckeyes for the first time was akin to immersing in the mikvah for the first time. Running out onto the field, with over 100,000 fans in the stadium, brought exhilaration, fear, awe, and a sense of accomplishment, the same feelings I felt standing on the steps of the mikvah awaiting the moment I would say the brachah and immerse.
(image above, taken in Columbus, Ohio with Rabbis Lazer Brody and David Reckles of Breslev Israel)
Yosef is the Hebrew name for Calvin Murray, an American retired football player who was a star college player for the legendary Ohio State Buckeyes under Coach Woody Hayes and who went on to play with the National Football League (NFL) for the Philadelphia Eagles and the United States Football League (USFL) for the Arizona Wranglers and the Denver Gold. The Murrays tell the beautiful story of their spiritual journey from being youth leaders in a Christian church to choosing Torah and Judaism.
Here is an excerpt from their book, From Rose Bowl to Rashi, A Unique Journey to Orthodox Judaism:
Having come from a high school, college and professional football career gave me the discipline to learn to pray as a Jew and take on the myriad of mitzvot that govern your daily life. The constant study, practice, and repetitive actions all laid the foundation for the conversion process and for leading a successful Jewish life. Conversion to Judaism impacts all areas of your life – what you eat, what you wear, your worldview, how you conduct your family life, and a number of other details of living. Learning to pray as a Jew requires intense concentration and focus, as do many of the disciplines I acquired as an athlete. Conversion is not for the timid or faint of heart; it requires the fortitude to withstand rejection and the strength to stay the course. One of the rabbis of the Beis Din told us, “It’s a marathon, not a race.” Truly, it is not an easy path, but we cannot imagine living our lives any other way.
I was fortunate enough to have played for the legendary Woody Hayes, who ran a tight ship. I felt like the practices were pure torture, but the end result was being a better man. Little did I know then that the very disciplines Hayes instilled in me, and the moral values he taught me, would be crucial in my spiritual journey to Judaism some 35 years later. I’ve scored touchdowns on the football field and the biggest touchdown spiritually.
I was married to Emunah (then Jeri) in 1992, and then began our adventure, of raising six kids, of being youth pastors in a church, and spending our lives mentoring young people. We were committed to raising our five sons and daughter with the foundation of the Bible and relationship with G-d. However, 12 years into our marriage, we got a taste of Judaism through a Messianic congregation. This introduction to Shabbos and the Festivals sparked our interest to dig deeper. After eventually being terminated from our youth pastor positions for being “too Jewish,” we studied Judaism in our home. We eventually ended up at a local Chabad, where we spent two years continuing our studies. We finally decided to convert, which we did with the Beis Din of Detroit in 2013. We had a beautiful chuppah and celebration with our new community.
Our conversion occurred on the 18th day of Adar, an auspicious date on the Jewish calendar. Adar is the month associated with increased joy and happiness. Eighteen is the value of the Hebrew letters chet and yud, which together spell the word chai or life. Eighteen is considered the luckiest number. We are not at all surprised that Hashem chose this date for our life-changing experience of becoming Jewish.
We have been fortunate to move into a warm and accepting Jewish community, where there are many learning and growth opportunities. We have been nurtured and loved, both by the community and numerous rabbis.
With several trips to Israel over the past three years, our interest in Aliyah grew exponentially. We felt this, too, was part of our journey – and baruch Hashem, we eventually came to live in the Holy Land.
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How ironic that it was a so-called "Messianic congregation," whose sole purpose is to lure Jews to the avodah zorah of worshiping J.C. by using external trappings of Yiddishkeit, was where these people found Moshe, instead!
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