As a player on the University of Wisconsin football team, Matt Bernstein is now visiting Israel for his first time on birthright/Taglit.
By DAVID MACHLIS
As a player on the University of Wisconsin football team, Matt Bernstein once fasted before a big game and is now visiting Israel for his first time on birthright/Taglit.
"This country is both beautiful and meaningful," he said. "Those kids [soldiers] are 18 years old and walking around with M-16's. And they're always one step away from always being in a fight.
"It makes football seem small."
Among Matt's favorite spots in Israel thus far: Independence Hall and Safed. "I couldn't leave [Safed]," he said.
The former starting fullback has had Israel and Judaism in his consciousness throughout his young career. In high school in Scarsdale, New York, there were a lot of Jews on the team so games were scheduled around the holidays. But after Matt graduated and enrolled at the University of Wisconsin, a Big Ten Conference powerhouse, he ran into some conflict.
In 2004, the Badgers played Penn State on Yom Kippur. Bernstein fasted all day, went to synagogue and received an IV right before kickoff.
"You have to fast on the holiest day of the year; there are things that are more important than football," he said.
Did Matt's decision irk any of the coaching staff or his teammates?
"My team supported me and even wished me happy holidays. I didn't even know they knew what the holidays were, me being a Jew never came up in the locker room."
The 1.88-meter, 120-kilogram former Badger finished his collegiate career with 181 yards receiving and 508 yards rushing with five touchdowns. He played in every game in 2003 as a sophomore and emerged as the starting fullback and was also named an Academic All-Big Ten Conference selection as a redshirt freshman.
Bernstein started the 2006 preseason at the Detroit Lions' training camp after being signed as an undrafted free agent. During camp, he sprained his ankle before the Lions made their cuts.
At 24, he's going to go back to New York to train in order to get invited back to an NFL training camp soon. He's also looking to catch on with an NFL Europe team.
In 2006, he was inducted into the National Jewish Sports Hall of Fame.
"Israel is almost like coming home. I definitely see myself coming back here," Bernstein said.
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