From the moment former Ohio State and Philadelphia Eagles running back Calvin Murray's mother first saw him, she said he had a certain glow and was different.
Years later, as Calvin Murray was considering going from being a Christian to an Orthodox Jew, Murray said his mother, Carol, came to him in a dream and said, "Finish where you're going."
Murray said he took it as a sign, and he and his wife Emunah converted in 2013.
Orthodox Jews believe "someone who converts always had a Jewish soul, they just had to go through a process to bring it out," said Rabbi Areyah Kaltmann, who helped the Murrays convert.
Calvin Murray, now 59, said maybe that "glow" his mother noticed was his "Jewish soul."
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"The day they converted in Detroit, I called up Calvin and his wife and said, 'Mazel tov, you just scored a touchdown win for the Jewish people,'" Kaltmann said.
Emunah Murray, 59, has written a book about their religious journey, titled "From Rose Bowl to Rashi." It also details her husband's life, even before the two were married in 1992 and includes information from his days as a Buckeye and Philadelphia Eagle.
The Bexley couple attends Congregation Ahavas Sholom in Bexley, an Orthodox Jewish synagogue, where they were honored June 20 for their commitment to the community and faith.
The award, called "Avodas Hakodesh," which means holy work, was presented to the Murrays during a dinner event at the synagogue, said Rabbi David Claman of Ahavas Sholom.
He said the couple is always willing to help, volunteer to work with youth, do behind-the-scenes tasks such as setting up for events at the synagogue, and attend several classes there each week.
"We are honoring Calvin and his wife, Emunah, because of their relentless dedication toward Judaism, toward our synagogue in particular, and toward the general community," Claman said. "They're truly inspiring individuals."
Calvin Murray works with foster children through a partnership program of Franklin County Children Services and the Educational Service Center of Central Ohio. He visits his wife, who lives in Israel for six months a year, as his schedule allows.
Emunah Murray moved to Israel in August 2016 due to a belief, she said, that moving there lifts Jews, both spiritually and physically. The two hope to spend seven to eight months a year in Israel when Calvin Murray retires from his foster children job, which the couple hopes will happen in three years.
The change in the couple's faith and lifestyle, from Friday night football to Friday evening Shabbat dinners, started years ago.
He said they took their time exploring conversion because he needed to use his "athlete's brain" to check every box and make sure the move would be right.
As the Murrays went from asking probing questions about faith at their Westerville church, to attending a Messianic congregation, to walking in the door of the Lori Schottenstein Chabad Center in New Albany, they said they became more enamored with Judaism and more skeptical of Christianity, the New Testament and the acceptance of Jesus as the Messiah.
Like Christians, Messianic Jews believe that Jesus is the Messiah, but they also believe in Jewish values and heritage. The belief system was a bridge of sorts, the Murrays said, as they explored their beliefs.
The conversion also meant lifestyle changes from what they ate, what they wore and where they lived, they said.
They moved from their family home near Westerville to Bexley, so they could walk to the synagogue since driving on the Sabbath is not permitted. They left a church where they were heavily involved, losing their entire community. Even their families didn't understand their decision at first, they said.
"You are on an island for a while, until you get acclimated," Calvin Murray said.
The struggles were worth it, they said, since they've found a wonderful new community and spiritual fulfillment.
"It's a meaningful way of life and we cannot imagine living any other way," Emunah Murray said.
For more information about Emunah Murray's book, "From Rose Bowl to Rashi," go to www.amazon.com/Rose-Bowl-Rashi-Journey-Orthodox/dp/0692914218.