On the surface, the game of football and the Jewish religion have nothing to do with each other, but to former NFL running back and Orthodox Jew, Yosef Murray, one could not exist without the other. Having converted to Judaism, Yosef is now making an impact off the field, but it was not a clear path to the end zone for Yosef. He would have to break through tackles and fight for yardage before ultimately crossing the plane for the score.
Yosef, who was born Calvin Murray, expressed an interest in religion before he ever touched the pigskin. Growing up in a Baptist family in New Jersey, Calvin was already inquiring about spirituality. His hometown was home to a burgeoning Jewish community, which he was very close with, describing them as “best friends…family basically.” But seeing the differences in spirituality led him to his local pastor. “I saw that Jews were going to services on Saturday and we were going Sunday. So, I asked, why are we doing this differently… and he said Jews do what they do and we do what we do. And that just wasn’t a good enough answer for me.” This response spurred Calvin on what would ultimately be a lifelong journey of seeking out truth.
Although he was on the smaller side, Yosef made a huge impact on the football field as a running back in high school, and was eventually recruited to play for football powerhouse Ohio State. While some were surprised by the talent and drive of Murray, he was always confident that G-d had his back. “I had a coach that had me set three goals. I said I wanted to play for Ohio State, I wanted to play for the Philadelphia Eagles, and I wanted to work with kids.” After an MVP year at Ohio State, Murray was drafted by the Philadelphia Eagles and then played in the USFL before being forced to retire due to a spinal injury.
Yosef and his wife Emunah were first introduced to Judaism through the Messianic movement, an organization that they became enamored with because “It seemed like step closer to the truth.” Yet as they continued to explore they “became aware of the mistranslations in the Christian bible and just became less and less satisfied,” leading them to an ideology that brought them closer to reality: Judaism. The couple spent time at the local Chabad and, after two years of intense dedication and study, they converted to Judaism. As Emunah puts it, “We felt that Judaism gave us a meaningful life and we yearned for intimacy with the creator and sustainer of the entire universe…and there was no way to do that except to become Orthodox Jews.”
It was not cut and dry for Yosef though as he naturally had difficulty not only giving up previous practices, like celebrating the holidays but also fully taking on his role as a Jewish man. “I was dragging my feet because I saw all these rules and regulations,” but at the end of the day, it was his training as an athlete that prepared him for finishing his route. “You have to train and study and study and train” in both Judaism and football, a method of dedication and hard work ultimately paid off for Yosef as he found his way along a path that presented a sense of truth to him and his family.
It has now been almost six years since the couple decided to convert and they have not looked back once. They travel across the world spreading their message of love and discovery, reminding them simply that, having both been there, “The grass is not greener on the other side.” The reaction to their work has been overwhelmingly positive, so much so that they have shared their stories in the new memoir From Rose Bowl to Rashi. “After we heard about a hundred times ‘“your story is so inspiring, you should write a book,”’ we actually decided to!” While he may not be electrifying stadiums with his performance on the field anymore, Yosef is still making an impact on audiences, pumping them up with his story of his search for truth and fulfillment.