Pretty much everyone agrees that Super Bowl 53 was a dull game with a dull halftime show and, in the end, a dull result as well.
But, as the saying goes, it was very good for the Jews.
First, Jewish Twitter is very, very excited at the first Jewish Super Bowl MVP, Julian Edelman, who cheered “L’Chaim” after winning the trophy.
Edelman, who finished with 140 of the Patriots’ 253 passing yards, is, by my unscientific measurement, the most popular Jewish athlete of our times. He’s Sandy Koufax, Mark Spitz, and Aly Raisman wrapped up into one.
And it doesn’t hurt that, with his Super Bowl lucky beard brushing against his chest, he could pass for a Hasid in a football helmet.
Actually, Edelman is as unlikely a Jewish hero as he is a football hero. In football terms, he was a late draft pick out of Kent State and is listed now as 5’10” and only 198 pounds (“only” for a football player). He also was once hesitant to identify as Jewish – his father is Jewish, his mother is not, but patrilineal descent has been kosher in the Reform movement for decades now. In 2012, he said in an interview, “I guess you could say I’m kind of Jewish but not really.”
That’s all changed. In subsequent years, he’s participated in well-publicized trips to Israel and written a children’s book with Jewish themes (which he even read at a JCC). And after the worst terrorist attack against Jews in American history, the massacre at the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh, Edelman wore special cleats with “Tree of Life” written on them, tweeted out the names of those lost and raised $10,000 for families of the victims.
“What can you say about Julian Edelman?” exclaimed Jeremy Burton, executive director of the Jewish Community Relations Council of Greater Boston. “Like a good Jewish boy on Rosh Hashanah, he grabbed the ram by the horn and showed for all of us the rewards that come from hard work and talent. Nachas!”
But Edelman wasn’t the only stereotype-defying American Jew warming this rabbi’s heart last night. There also was Adam Levine.
Now, I admit, my personal friend cohort is not necessarily filled with Maroon 5 fans. And critics (including The Daily Beast’s Kevin Fallon) have agreed that his halftime performance was a snore.
But as a gay Jewish man, I owe Levine a debt of gratitude. The fact is, he’s made Jewish sexy in a way not seen since the golden age of Elliot Gould. People’s Sexiest Man Alive in 2013, he of the Moves like Jagger has made it cool to have pale skin, strong eyebrows, and brown hair. Not to mention a name like “Adam Levine.”
The thing is, sexy and athletic have not, historically, been qualities attributed to diaspora Jewish men. As scholars like Sander Gilman and David Biale have shown, Jews have for centuries (literally) been described by anti-Semites as unattractive, unathletic, smelly, and “effeminate” – unconnected to hard work and strong values, better with books than balls.
So, this is kind of a big deal. With anti-Semitism on the rise since the 2016 election, fighting anti-Jewish stereotypes is newly important. Julian Edelman’s MVP trophy is part of that, and so are Adam Levine’s abs. This is how cultural change happens.
Finally, I would be remiss if I did not mention another Jewish man enjoying a victory lap, Patriots owner Robert Kraft.
I don’t want to mention him, to be honest. Kraft is a notorious Trump supporter, hard-right on Israel, and just generally loathsome to liberals like me. But okay, look, he won. Again. And, I guess, if this weekend has been so good for American Jews, I can make a small gesture toward tribal unity by including Mr. Kraft in the celebration.
So, welcome to the party, boss. There’s plenty of nachas to go around.