BBYO-Wisconsin member Micah Packman prompted AJ Dillon, Green Bay Packers running back, to share his experience living as a Jew of color.
The interview took place in February 2022, at the BBYO International Convention in Baltimore.
Packman began the interview by asking Dillon about his engagement in Jewish life throughout his childhood. “Growing up, my mom’s side of the family was very Jewish and I went to Hebrew school. I was very active, and I’m part of the Hendel family if there’s anybody in the Hendel family out here, and it’s just a long lineage and I’m happy to be a part of the culture that they have and continue.”
Dillon’s mother joked that he would have to choose between Hebrew school and football. “For football, I was traveling; there’s games. There’s all these practices. It was really tough to do both.”
While at the time he chose to invest most of his time in the demanding lifestyle of football, he never really put his Judaism on the backburner, Dillon said. Judaism “was just one of those things I naturally seeked out.”
Dillon gravitated toward communities with similar values to Judaism: “My family was always inclusive to people of any walk of life,” so he wanted to practice the same sentiment in his own life.
When he had the time, Dillon made sure to join clubs that included Muslims, LGBTQ+ folks, and allies of every kind. “Just anybody, and just be there for them, give a hand and all that stuff was amazing.”
Dillon shared that even in traditionally non-Jewish spaces such as his Jesuit college or on the football field, he was “proud and honored” to share his story and identity with others. In the locker room and on the field, Dillon said that he’s always had the support of his teammates to celebrate his Jewish identity.
“All my teammates in the locker room, they knew I was Jewish. They supported me, especially when I was younger. In high school, there were days where … I was observing Jewish holidays. People don’t really understand. ‘What do you mean you can’t come to practice?’ People just thought I was trying to get a day off of school, so … I’ve been really lucky to have always had support.”
Packman, of BBYO-Wisconsin region, referenced a TikTok that Dillon posted in his effort to break the Jewish stereotype. He came across another TikToker with blue eyes and blonde hair, “not necessarily what people typically think of somebody being Jewish, and I thought about myself, I mean, tattoos, Black guy, NFL …. Most people look at me and the last thought that comes across their mind is that you’re Jewish.”
Still, “it was never something I shied away from or hid,” he said. To undo this stigma, Dillon thought it “was really important I could do it in such a lighthearted way and have fun with it.”
Through lighthearted TikToks and interviews like these, Dillon aims to break the stigma that you have to look a certain way to identify as one thing or another, he said. Packman ended the interview by asking Dillon what he plans to do next.
“I’m always looking to get better and continue to work in my craft, and like I’ve gathered from just being around the last couple days, you guys got so many workshops and things you got going on so it’s pretty much the same,” Dillon said. “I’m just gonna take this off season, figure out how I can get better, add more tools to my trade, and you know stay healthy and have fun.”