On a beautiful Saturday morning in November, an amazing thing is happening at Kiddush. A group of men with no prior reason to get to know each other outside a “good Shabbos” are asking deeply personal questions. Why? It is all in the name of strategy. The Pittsburgh Kollel’s now-famous Torah and Turf league starts that Sunday night. One team captain taps one guy on the chest and says, “I hope you are fast. They got this one guy is an absolute speedster and you have to cover him.”
Another team captain starts a group chat with all eight of his new teammates right after Havdalah. Why? He wants to get a practice in to build chemistry. Fun plays called PB&J, crisscross applesauce and Tartan are drawn up on play cards fresh from being drawn in the sand. Each person gets a fun Steelers-themed nickname except for the token Tampa Bay Bucs fan, who just gets to keep his original name.
There is no reason to show up to Schenley Oval. It is late on a Sunday night, the Steelers game is on, and the temperature is well below 40 degrees. Talk about dedication. This year’s Torah and Turf league is just different that way. From approximately 20 guys practically playing backyard football to 40 Jewish men, even Pittsburgh startups are jealous of the growth trajectory. Along with new sponsorships comes new jerseys and flags. Four referees are brought in and rule changes are made. Rabbi Yossi Berkowitz, director of Kollel Konnections, has put in considerable effort to make this league available, affordable and fun.
“There were two main objectives we had for year two. We wanted to build a more inclusively league to encourage participation across the community. We wanted to provide a structure to build on for years to come,” said Berkowitz. “I think we were successful and the players are excited to be a part of this.”
The games are two 20-minutes halves that leave most people completely exhausted. Even though the players are fatigued, each game remains very competitive. It is unfortunate that someone has to lose, but by the time the final whistle blows team captains are already making adjustments for next week. As the players walk back to their cars, they are giving their input on what went right and what went wrong. For a second, an outsider might feel as though they are listening into a true NFL post-game press conference.
With a very fun and interesting five game regular season and a two game playoff, a champion has won. If you swap out the typical barbershop scene in a movie or TV show for a beis midrash, the true trophy becomes much more clear. There is no better feeling then letting your rabbi know that your chavrusa can’t cover you on the flag football field. Or letting them know yourself as you run on the treadmill at the JCC.
Two parts of the league make up its namesake. First, there is the weekly derasha, which is always incredibly enlightening. It is a reminder that there are always a few minutes in a day where we can learn a little Torah. Second, the players in the league become a family. It doesn’t matter where you daven, what you do or where you are religiously. It is a place where an entire Pittsburgh community can truly come together as one. So the question becomes apparent. Are you ready for some football? pjc
Marc Rosenberg is a program manager for Smith Micro Software and an almunus of CMU’s Tepper MBA program.