Think your Yom Kippur fast will be difficult? Imagine being a 6-foot-6, 340-pound NFL guard who’s used to consuming thousands of calories a day during the season.
“If I was playing, I wouldn’t fast, because I’ve got to be able to fuel myself to play,” Schwartz said Wednesday. “But it’s not that tough, really. I’ll eat dinner at 5:00 Friday, then I’ll go to services and I’ll just basically miss breakfast and lunch Saturday. I get grumpy, sure. It’s not the most fun 27 hours or so. But it’s worth doing.”
The Los Angeles native, who was signed by the Giants in March, is one half of the first set of Jewish brothers to play in the NFL since 1923; his brother Mitchell plays offensive tackle for the Cleveland Browns. Rebecca Meiser profiled the duo in 2012, when Geoff played for the Minnesota Vikings. While the boys’ Judaism was suddenly thrust into focus when the entered the NFL and became role models to young Jewish boys across the country, Geoff in particular had long struggled to balance his burgeoning athletic career with his religious observance.
When Geoff got to Oregon and started playing college football, those tensions became more acute, his father Lee Schwartz told Meiser:
“The hardest part for Geoff was what to do on high holidays when there were games,” Lee said. Growing up, the boys had observed all the Jewish holidays. As a freshman, Geoff’s second game of the year was on Yom Kippur, and he struggled with how to handle the holiday. Finally, he went to the offensive linesman coach, who was Greek Orthodox, who told Geoff to go to temple and fast.
But the battle got a lot harder sophomore year when Geoff was a starter. He decided to play. “Everyone talks about Sandy Koufax,” said his father. “But I think in some ways Koufax made it worse for other kids. When you’re Koufax, you can do what you want and no one says boo to you, but when you’re Geoff Schwartz at Oregon, and you say I’m not going to play, you’re treated differently.”
Now that Geoff is in the big leagues—and perhaps, more pressingly, that he’s on the bench with an injury–those decisions seem to be easier to make. Have an easy fast, buddy.
Stephanie Butnick is deputy editor of Tablet Magazine and a host of the Unorthodox podcast.