Matt Bernstein had a memorable college career at Wisconsin. He made headlines by fasting on Yom Kippur but Bernstein’s college days were not defined by one moment. He became a quality player on a very good squad. His work ethic landed him an invite to the Detroit Lions camp. Although he never played a snap in the NFL he made his mark on the Jewish football landscape. Now he has shifted gears to Israeli Tech. Check out what Bernstein is up to today!
1) Tell TGR a little bit about yourself.
My name is Matthew Alan Bernstein. My parents, Nancy and Steve, have been New Yorkers since birth. I have two brothers both younger, Alex and Ben, who eventually played football with me in high school. I grew up in Edgemont New York. Played football every morning before elementary school started on the playground. Went to Hebrew school every Monday and Wednesday for 16 years. 1996 Jew ball champions. Our town is split into two elementary schools and when teams were being picked for our rec program I was never on the same team as my friends because they tried to make every team fair. Once we got to high school and could play football, basketball, and run track together no one was safe. I was 6’1 250 pounds and ran like a horse. Avoiding people was not in my vocabulary. I also played middle linebacker which was my favorite. If I could crush someone and make people scared in the stands I would (thus why I painted my face, war paint). Football elevates your state of mind to a place I will never get back to without running on that field. So, to say I was bananas is an understatement. Here sums up my high school career. My mom was interviewed for the local newspaper and the reporter asked, “Are you scared for your sons to play football?” Nancy said, “I am scared for everyone else’s sons.” What a baller line! Lucky enough to get a scholarship to play football for the Wisconsin Badgers which is one of the best accomplishments of my life. I was NEVER late to one lift group, practice, meeting, breakfast, lunch, or dinner. I was voted 2005 captain by a team vote which meant the world to me. I loved being a fullback and blocking and being a team player. Actually, punt team was my favorite part of football, the chance to make a tackle, which I had 1 in 3 years. Best tackle of my life. I am definitely an extrovert, a huge Badger fan, and an all-around great guy. I have lived in Westchester NY, Madison, Detroit, Chicago, Phily, Milwaukee, and about to move into NYC with my fiancé Ali Fitzgerald in August. By the way I am engaged to a 4’11 gal who is truly amazing, strong, beautiful, and smart (a lot smarter than me). I am an uncle to Lila, Alex’s child, and Rhodin, Ben’s child, and about to be a step uncle to Ali’s sister Holly’s child. Favorite place in the world is Israel (SCHWARMA) and Camp Randall on game days. Favorite bar is Wando’s in Madison, where I met Ali. Favorite food is anything at Candlelight in Scarsdale. Hands down best wings in the world. Jets, Mets, and Knick fan so a glutton for punishment. Huge Marvel fan. The Hulk is a boss. I could name about 500 favorite movies but Predator is definitely up there. I love reading books and to end this blurb Twilight is one of my favorites but you can’t beat Vince Flynn books (Term Limits, READ IT).
2) How did you choose to play at Wisconsin?
It was a very easy choice. Wisconsin was such a gorgeous place when I came to visit. I mean it is the BIG 10! We went to practice at the seminary, yes, the seminary and it looked great. Fields were nice, food was great. Little did I know the next year when I got there that it is the worst place on Earth. No AC, no doors on the bathroom with a roommate, no phones (remember in 2001 not many people had phones) and no connection to the outside world, just football. To get back to why I chose Wisconsin when you are on the Terrace sitting with my parents and younger brother, Alex, drinking a beer, because that’s the law, was too good to be true. Also, Wisconsin was recruiting me to play fullback unlike Syracuse that wanted me to play D-Line. ALSO, Jo Pa and the Penn State Nittany Lions actually passed on me so the payback was super sweet. AND Madison is such a great city. Capitol of Wisconsin, you can walk everywhere, two lakes, amazing food and bars. That experience of the mid-west is unforgettable and was perfect.
3) A lot was writing about you fasting on Yom Kippur. Why was that so important to you? Looking back on it; was it the right choice?
It was very important to me to fast on Yom Kippur. I will be the first to say I am not the most observant Jew but the high holidays, Passover, and traditions are close to my heart. To me being Jewish is about family and friends and breaking bread with everyone. Drinking wine and celebrating the traditions. Back in my playing days football was life, 24/7. BUT my Judaism was still #1 so fasting was important. It was definitely the right choice and luckily it worked out very well. The Penn State game was moved to 4:45 which helped me be able to fast and play. And then drink a beer with Erin Andrews, Fowler, and Herbstreit at, you guessed it, Wando’s. Here is a good story about my beliefs. Madison has a day called Mifflin Block Party. It is a wild party day. Usually fell over Passover. I would get Kosher for Passover vodka and put it in Kosher for Passover OJ and drink that instead of beer. It was terrible tasting but important for me to honor the tradition.
4) After your playing days, have you been able to stay involved with football?
When I was done with actually playing football I got into coaching at the high school that I went to. I really enjoyed that time. It is fun to be around football and practice and players albeit not when you are actually practicing. Coming up with game plan and watching the kids have success was special. I miss it.
5) You got an invitation to come to camp with the Lions. What was that experience like?
It was a very different experience. The NFL is a tough place to be. People move around, are cut, and change teams so often that the comradery isn’t like college or high school. You aren’t leaving practice to go to eat dinner with 5 teammates or go live in an apartment with 3 guys on the team. Everyone had families and outside things to do. It was fun to be there and be part of it and I wish it went better but my body was giving up at this point.
6) You didn’t get to see a NFL field. Any regrets? Would you have done anything different?
I don’t know if I regret what happened. I started to get hurt and lose that mindset of being unbreakable. I sprained my ankle and had back problems, eventually had surgery on my back, and couldn’t get back in the groove. No regrets but I know I would have been successful given more time and a better back HAHA.
7) What are you up to these days?
Right now, I work at the American Technion Society. I love it here. I am in development raising money for the Israel Institute of Technology which is changing the world for the better. What Israel is doing with technology is mind blowing. For example, do you like your cell phone? Israel tech. Waze? Israel tech. Iron Dome? Israel tech. I could go on for days. MIT who?