by Rabbi James Greene
My enjoyment of all things Nebraska has deep roots. My family came to Nebraska from Poland and Russia in the late 1800s and lived there for over 100 years. My grandmother, mother, and aunt are all graduates of the University of Nebraska. They raised me with a passion for Nebraska sports and passed down to me the values associated with being part of the Big Red Nation: teamwork, passion, and pride.
On Sept. 8, 2012, Nebraska’s football team came to Pasadena to play UCLA. In support of our team, a span of four generations of our family piled into my car and drove the 7 hours to the Rose Bowl. For my four-year-old daughter, Talyah, this was her first in-person experience with Nebraska sports and fans. As we drove down I-5, we shared stories of seasons past and taught Talyah some of the team cheers.
I am the Rabbi at the Addison-Penzak Jewish Community Center in Los Gatos, CA. Before I left for my trip, a staff member asked me why I could possibly want to drive all that way? What was I hoping Talyah would get out of the experience? Immediately, a text from our tradition came to my mind.
The Talmud teaches that, “a parent is obligated to do the following for their children: bring them in to the covenant, redeem them if they are a first born, teach them Torah, find him a partner, and teach them a trade. Others include: teaching them how to swim.” Although the original text speaks only of a father’s obligation to his sons, part of our family value system includes egalitarianism. For me then, this text is expanded to include all parents and all children.
This text speaks to the need to pass things down from one generation to the next. We don’t just leave our kids out in the world. We teach them how to contribute to society, how to love, how to be safe, and how to have a passion for life. In my family, that passion comes, in part, through a commitment to UNL sports. It is our version of Ledor Vador – from one generation to the next.
After being stationed at SAC Air Base, my family was relocated to Germany. One of my most powerful early memories of life in Germany was being awakened in the middle of the night to watch the Nebraska-Oklahoma football game on Armed Forces Television. It instilled a sense of home and groundedness amidst a life of moving around and transition from one continent to the next. It gave me a place to be from that transcended just a physical address. And it taught me about sportsmanship and passion in a way that few things ever could.
I want my daughters to have that sense of groundedness as well. I want them to share the same foundational story as the rest of my family. But most importantly, I want them to be exposed to the values and traditions that come from rooting for a team – our family’s team!
I hope to have many special experiences with my daughters. As they grow, the experiences become more intense. We transition from holding them for the first time to attending their b’not mitzvah, and from accompanying them to the huppah to holding their children in our arms. There are many more moments and many more firsts. I don’t think I realized how important of a “first” this was for me until the first touchdown of the game. Talyah was so excited – she stood up on the railing and started yelling “Go Big Red!” with all her might.
Other fans noticed. They chanted with her and gave her lots of high fives. At that moment, I thought of my grandfather, may his memory be a blessing, who gave me my first Nebraska t-shirt. I thought of the very first game that Talyah and I ever watched together, a Nebraska football game when she was just two weeks old. She sat in my arms on a Saturday evening after havdallah, wearing her Big Red onesie, and slept on my shoulder while I cheered as quietly as I ever have.
A victory at the Rose Bowl would have been nice. But I will settle for what did happen. Talyah, this sweet little girl who has never stepped foot into Nebraska, became a lifelong Husker fan. She joined the foundational story of my family. And I fulfilled one of the requirements of a Jewish parent. I gave my daughter something to be passionate about, and a place to call home in the world. For that, I am grateful.
Rabbi James Greene is the rabbi at the Addison-Penzak Jewish Community Center in Los Gatos, CA. He grew up at Temple Israel in Omaha and is a life-long Nebraska sports fan.