Why ‘Kind of Jewish’ Julian Edelman Spent the NFL Offseason Studying for His Bar Mitzvah

Longtime Patriots wide receiver Julian Edelman is one of the most underrated NFL players. Serving as quarterback Tom Brady’s sideman for his career to date, 2020 will be Edelman’s time to shine. Lately, he’s become more vocal off the field, too.

Changes in his personal life could’ve helped Edelman decide to speak out. Although he grew up in a Jewish household, he focused more on sports than religion. Let’s explore Edelman’s interesting background, the events that pushed him forward, and the way he confronted anti-semitism in the NFL.

Julian Edelman’s Jewish family roots

Edelman didn’t always identify as Jewish, and neither did his family. L.A. Magazine reports that he told reporters this in 2012. “I’m not completely Jewish,” he said before that year’s Super Bowl appearance. “My father is Jewish. My mother isn’t … I guess you could say I’m kind of Jewish but not really.”

His father is Ashkenazi Jewish by heritage but did not identify as such because he did not practice the faith. This limited Edelman’s exposure to the religion mostly to the time he learned about his relatives. His great grandfather, as told on his Jewish Virtual Library biography, actively practiced the Jewish faith.

As Edelman explored his family background in greater detail as an adult, he became more interested in his family’s historical faith. Forward reports learning about his great grandfather led him to start representing Jewish and Israeli imagery while playing in the NFL. After two family generations away from the faith, Edelman now practices Judaism.

Edelman stands up to hate after the Tree of Life shooting

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Edelman’s renewed interest in his faith seemed to come from a personal place. On the field, he continued to perform at the highest level. Whatever personally drove him to explore religion, it wasn’t likely to be due to trauma in his professional life. Brady, certainly, was supportive, and even keeps a menorah in his home as a sign of respect to Jewish friends, the Jewish Telegraphic Agency reports.

The first major public test of Edelman’s faith was unimaginable. As Edelman’s dedication to his community deepened, that same community was hit by a horrific anti-semitic spree shooting. CNN reports that a white supremacist terror attack took 11 lives in the Tree of Life synagogue in 2018.

Edelman tweeted in support of the victims and his community. TMZ Sports shared his comments at the time. “I’m sending vibes and they’re in our prayers,” Edelman said. “It was a big hit to the community, and it’s uncalled for.”

He followed up with another tweet on the topic. “As a Jew, an American and a human, I’m devastated,” Edelman wrote. “We are with you, Pittsburgh.”

Edelman responds to DeSean Jackson’s anti-semitic remarks

From there, Edelman’s dedication to Judaism deepend further. He spends his offseason in L.A., where L.A. Magazine reports he meets with a rabbi weekly. He’s using his downtime during the pandemic to study for his Bar Mitzvah.

A fellow NFL player broke this period of serenity. Philadelphia Eagles receiver DeSean Jackson recently shared anti-semitic remarks on Instagram. Edelman stayed quiet for several days, before responding via his own Instagram post.

In the video, he takes a remarkable approach to the controversy. He offers to spend a day with Jackson, going to the Holocaust Museum and the African-American Museum of History and Culture. Then, he said that he’ll have “the hard conversations” over burgers afterward. Edelman reveals that he was called an anti-semitic slur in 2011 in the video as well, driving home how painful this must be. Yet, he manages to put that anger aside. He simply wants to help Jackson be a better human being.