A spiritual force: Cowboys' Igor Olshansky takes a fierce pride in his Jewish faith
By Barry Horn
http://www.JewishWorldReview.com | (MCT) It is a good bet that in the 50 years Dallas Cowboys history has overlapped the 5,770 years of Jewish history, no player ever before uttered the word "Elokim" inside the team's training facility.
That streak ended last week when
It was a conversation stopper. Time for one more repetition.
"Elokim," Olshansky replied.
"Elokim" is the third Hebrew word in the Bible. It is repeated often throughout the Torah as well as Jewish prayer services. It means "G-d."
Olshansky, a 6-6, 315-pound run-stopping defensive end whom the Cowboys last spring imported as a free agent, doesn't claim to be an observant Jew.
But he is a proud Jew. The identical Stars of David tattooed along his massive clavicles bear witness. In a sports world with relatively few Jewish athletes, and fewer who talk openly about their religion, he has become a role model of sorts to Jewish children. That's what happened back in
"I am who I am," Olshansky said. "I am a Jew, a spiritual person who has my own personal relationship with G-d. I try to be a good person . . . and although I never chose to be a role model, I don't mind it."
"He's a mentsh," Lipner said, choosing a Yiddish word that roughly translates into a person of integrity and honor.
Olshansky attended the
His parents sent their 7-year-old Igor and sister Marina, seven years older, to the school not to learn about the religion they couldn't practice in the
It would prove to be a life-altering experience. Not only did Igor learn English while wearing a traditional skull cap — yarmulke — and tasseled fringes — tzitzis — under his shirt, he also prayed daily and studied Hebrew, the Bible and Jewish ethics. And most important of all, he met his future wife, Liya, a fellow Soviet emigrant there.
For many children, the transformation from the
Liya did. Igor stayed four years until he completed the eighth grade.
"I liked the school," Olshansky said. "It was all so new to me. I was really interested. I learned a lot."
Both grandfathers — large, powerful men whom Igor knows only through family lore — fought with the Soviet army in World War II. His maternal grandfather is said to have been wounded 11 times.
His father, Yury, a solidly built butcher back in the
It was during a trip to visit her sister in
In 1989, with the collapse of the
By the time the family arrived in
Basketball, taught by Yury, was Igor's first sport. Bigger and stronger than most others his age, Igor excelled playing mostly at the local
Olshansky headed to the University of Oregon. He continued to add size and strength. He gained his first smidge of national attention with a stellar performance in the 2002 Fiesta Bowl against Colorado.
By the end of the 2003 season, Olshansky deemed himself ready for the NFL draft. His 4.9-second speed in the 40-yard dash combined with the ability to bench-press
505 pounds made him an intriguing candidate. When the scouts visited
The San Diego Chargers made Olshansky, who had a grand total of six years of experience, the third player selected in the second round, the 35th pick in the draft. Five springs and 70 NFL starts later, he signed a free-agent contract with the Cowboys.
Asked for a story about his athletic career, Olshansky relished talking about the struggle to set the bench-press record.
"I am an immigrant from the
Liya, whose family emigrated from
They were married in a traditional Jewish ceremony in 2005. The video of friends struggling to lift the massive Olshansky overhead in a chair to meet his similarly raised wife at the center of a traditional dance is interesting.
"We have a lot of history together," said Liya, 26.
"I feel so blessed to be with him. He was then like he is now. He's very intelligent, cultured and very spiritual in his own way."
One item she knows she will never bring home from the supermarket is pork, a biblically forbidden food for Jews. She began an explanation of what observant Jews will and will not eat.
"An orthodox Jew, Igor is not," he said. "But I have to tell you, I have tremendous respect for him and the way he carries himself. You know, if you feel good about who you are, it helps with everything else in life. Igor feels good about himself."
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