By Eli Lunzer – Chabad.org
It’s the Super Bowl weekend—the biggest sporting event of the year!—and things are hectic around here. Shabbat is approaching, and there are many thoughts swirling in my head. So, here goes:
I was born and raised in the bastion of American Judaism, New York City—the Upper West Side of Manhattan to be exact. All of my grandparents were Holocaust survivors, and my parents instilled within me a strong sense of Jewish identity. I was fortunate to attend Jewish day schools, and all in all, I was steeped in Judaism and Jewish culture my entire early life.
Still, there was definitely something missing. I was always a proud Jew, of course, but I was looking for a more meaningful and loving relationship with G‑d, something that wasn’t so pronounced in my early years.
After graduating college, I got involved in the music industry, taking part in planning and producing events. As I became more well-versed in the industry, my natural passion for sports kicked into gear, and I eventually transferred over to the sports world. From there, I branched into the entertainment and celebrity space. I currently own and operate my own production company, helping athletes and other celebrities build and manage their brands.
At first, the tension between my religious life and the business opportunities I was trying to capitalize upon was acute. I recall working for the New York Knicks in those early days, and the Knicks organization pressured me to work seven days a week, including Shabbat of course. As a young start-up, the pressure was immense, and the opportunity tantalizing. After all, according to “the rules of the game,” if I put in the work now, it would be my ticket to working my way up.
I knew that come what may, I had to keep Shabbat. But it wasn’t easy. It was difficult to feel good about the choices I was sort of compelled to make. I sensed that I was losing out on the competition and falling behind in my professional dreams.
It was at this point in my life that a journey of deeper learning and discovery came to a head. I was living on my own as a young single on the Upper East Side of Manhattan. I had the good fortune of meeting Rabbi Yosef and Devorah Wilhelm of Chabad Young Professionals of the Upper East Side, which proved to be a game-changer,
Back then, we were just a dozen or so young Jews starting an organic community, very tight-knit and supportive. My Judaism and sense of belonging really burgeoned in that atmosphere. I was introduced to the study of Chassidic thought and exposed to the passion a genuine relationship with G‑d ignites. The regular farbrengens we had—and continue to have—internalized everything I was learning and loving.
My relationship with Judaism and G‑d became stronger and more intentional. I consider myself incredibly fortunate to feel genuinely excited about my Judaism, and my involvement in the Jewish community remains a true bedrock for myself, my wife Yosefa, and our son Ami.
Decisions like forgoing the seven-day workweek with the Knicks are no longer as excruciating; I’m proud of my commitment to G‑d. Through my work, I’ve been blessed to take part in many high-level productions, events, and opportunities. It’s easy to fall adrift in such a world, always trying to get a leg up over the competition, but my deep relationship with G‑d guides me every step of the way.
Our range is pretty broad; we do things like getting a client honored at an event, arranging for clients to deliver the keynote address at high-profile gatherings, creating marketing opportunities, collaborations with other companies and organizations, as well as multiple business deals. We place a heavy focus on large-scale sports and entertainment events, which means I find myself in the thick of things at famous events like the Super Bowl, the NBA All-Star Game, Coachella, and Art Basel.
Despite all of that pomp and fame, my relationship with G‑d remains central in my own decision-making, as well as my interactions with others. I’ve had to turn down many lucrative business opportunities and decline important events because of my commitment to Shabbat and the holidays. Hey, many would love an invitation to Tom Brady’s personal Super Bowl party over the weekend, but I can’t do it. Michael Jordan’s annual birthday party over the NBA All-Star weekend is primetime stuff, but that, too, I must turn down.
My clients all know that I don’t answer my phone or go out at all on Shabbat, and if they ever want to go out with me, it’s going to have to be at a kosher restaurant.
Is it hard? Absolutely! I won’t fool anyone that navigating this universe as a religious Jew is a cakewalk, but I can say: it’s possible, and I’m up for the challenge. I wouldn’t trade my job for any other; I love it, and thank G‑d, I have produced great results.
What’s more—and this is an important piece—I find that G‑d doesn’t remain in debt. If I stay true to my part of the relationship, He comes through and shows me success in other ways. Ultimately, I’m not losing anything because of my religious commitments; in fact, I only gain more in the long run. And I mean that in the literal sense of the word, in raw business opportunity, thank G‑d.
Interestingly, I find that the athletes I work with appreciate the religious regimen to which I’m dedicated. These are professionals who adhere to incredibly strict regimens themselves: waking up early in the morning, working out, eating very specific foods, and other such guidelines. They’re used to the notion that success doesn’t come cheaply but requires strict dedication and hard work. So, when I tell them about my own personal regimen of kashrut, Shabbat, festivals, and regular prayer (among other things), they absolutely respect it.
Ultimately, I feel incredibly proud of the challenges I face and overcome every day. It’s so easy to look the other way and convince yourself, “Oh, I’ll just give in this one time so I can get ahead. No one will know, and it’s not such a big deal.” But I don’t think twice. Every time I stick to my guns, to what I believe in, I feel good inside, and it provides my life with tremendous meaning.