Beliefnet

When you were a defensive tackle at the University of Georgia, a rabbi in Jacksonville criticized you and another lineman for playing in the Georgia-Florida game on Yom Kippur.

[Laughs] That rabbi obviously didn’t go to the University of Georgia or the University of Florida! What can I say? I can only take so much. Unlike wrestling, football is a team sport. There’s not much room for individual choice. So if I’ve played sports on one or two Jewish holidays, then I am very sorry. But hey, I think I’m a pretty good person, and I think I’ve done more good than harm. For the record, though, I do prefer not to wrestle on Yom Kippur.

At one point you considered wearing--or at least it was suggested that you wear--the Star of David on your trunks.

Well, I figured the name Goldberg said it all. Hell, if I walk out there as Goldberg and you can’t figure out I’m Jewish for yourself, well, then, I’m sorry. But professional wrestling wasn’t a religious decision for me, not that there’s anything wrong with that. It just wasn’t me. Now if I went in there calling myself “Mossad” [Israel’s secret service], that’d be a whole different story.

 

But distinguishing yourself as the "Jewish wrestler" seems to have helped your career.

Sure. And not many people in the world are worthy of representing a group or a cause, so I'm pleased if I'm somehow looked upon as worthy of that honor.

What was your religious upbringing like?

Unfortunately, it didn't go much beyond my Bar Mitzvah at age 13. When I was a kid you were either Orthodox or you were not, at least that's how it seemed. But I realize now it's different. Last weekend I went to my nephew's Bar Mitzvah, and it struck me that I'd wasted many years not really knowing who I was religiously. Growing up I considered Sunday school a form of torture. I lost a lot of opportunities to learn and grow because I didn't take in as much as I should have. So I've had to go back and really learn who I am. And I'm more proud of who I am every day.

So you consider yourself a religious seeker?

Absolutely. I've tried to connect in every way that I can, whether it's spending time with various rabbis or speaking to groups like Hillel. And I've been reading to try to understand just what my Bar Mitzvah was all about. In a sense, all I did as a kid was memorize stuff. So I told my nephew at his Bar Mitzvah, "Definitely look at this as something serious and learn from it. Make it a springboard for religious growth." But as far as I was concerned as a kid, religion was drudgery, like having to go to more school. That attitude doesn't work for me any more.

Basically, I just want to be as knowledgeable and to grow as much as I can in every way possible. And the most important thing in life is religion, obviously. Now, I'm not going to sit here and pound the Torah for you! I just think it's important for everyone to know who they are.

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