Legendary all-star Rose Bowl running back Calvin Murray played football for the Philadelphia Eagles in the early ’80s. Yet he says his greatest touchdown was converting to Orthodox Judaism five years ago, and with his wife, Emunah, preparing to make aliyah.
Murray, who now goes by the name Yosef, will share his story in Tucson on Thursday, Sept. 6, at Chabad Tucson’s annual High Holidays lecture, co-hosted by the Tucson Jewish Community Center. He speaks with sincerity, enthusiasm, conviction and passion. “I want to be an inspiration and represent the Jewish community in an uplifting way. To be a light to the world, and bring the world together,” he told the AJP.
When Murray was a young boy, he set three goals for his future. First was to play for Ohio State University. The second, to play for his dad’s favorite team, the Philadelphia Eagles. The third goal was to work with kids. Murray started playing football when he was 8 years old. He went on to play four years with Ohio State University, catching the longest pass in the Buckeyes’ history (86 yards, 1979) and become the 1980 MVP. He played two years with the National Football League and played briefly with the United States Football League until an injury ended his career.
In high school, Murray began a Bible study group, Fellowship for Christian Athletes, with his coach. He continued leading the group through college and his NFL career and once had Julius “Dr. J” Erving in his home to study the word of God, he recalls.
He met his wife, then Jeri, when both were youth pastors at an evangelical Christian church. They married in 1992 and together raised six children. Twelve years into their marriage, the couple got their first taste of Judaism through a Messianic congregation. They had no intention of becoming Jewish; they simply were searching for the truth. Little by little, as they learned more, they began to realize that the truth was in Torah, Murray says.
The couple was eager in their Judaic studies but a rabbi told them, “This is not a sprint, it’s a marathon.” After 10 years of study, the couple converted in 2013. Murray’s belief and understanding comes from the Torah. Knowing what it says, how it is interpreted and understanding how it relates to the customs and traditions is important to him.
“Sometimes it’s the simple things that inspire you. Everyone has to find their own way to God,” he says. “I wanted a close personal relationship with the Creator and the only way I could get there was by becoming an Orthodox Jew. The experience to find that journey in life includes encouraging other people, because we’re not here for ourselves.”
Murray’s upbringing as the eldest son and his discipline and training as an athlete enabled him to handle the responsibility of being an Orthodox Jew, he says. He now spends hours in prayer daily, seeking guidance and direction. “I hear God more. It takes a lot of personal time and intimacy, like starting to date someone. You have to talk to Him and build a relationship. It is such a beautiful time.”
Murray will present “My Greatest Touchdown: A Journey from Football to Faith” on Thursday, Sept. 6, 7-8:30 p.m. at the Tucson Jewish Community Center, 3800 E. River Road. Tickets are $15 in advance at www.chabadtucson.com/NFL, or $18 at the door.