(Hoops Habit)

From All-Star to Israeli: The Incredible Story of Amar’e Stoudemire’s Journey to Judaism

Former NBA all-star Amar’e Stoudemire’s journey to Judaism is certainly unique. The former Rookie of the Year and six-time All-Star played 16 seasons in the NBA, four in Israel, one in China, and added a stint in Ice Cube’s BIG3 League of retired professional basketball players. In addition to his basketball endeavors, he has also appeared in various TV shows, started his own clothing line, written a series of children’s books, and launched a wine label, along with many other projects. Most recently, he added converting Judaism to the list. 

Although he grew up Baptist, Stoudemire’s mother told him that through her, he was a Black Hebrew Israelite, a group of African-Americans who believe they are descendants of ancient Israelites. Stoudemire began his Jewish journey on the New York Knicks, when he first began to wear tzitzit, read Jewish books, and fast on Yom Kippur. In 2010, Stoudemire visited Israel in order to gain a better understanding of his heritage. While coaching at the Maccabiah Games in Israel in 2013, Stoudemire met with then-president Shimon Peres, who urged him to play for the Israeli national team. 

By 2018, Stoudemire had announced that he had begun the process of converting to Judaism. In March 2019, Stoudemire received Israeli citizenship and on August 26, 2020, he announced that he had gone to the beit din and mikvah, completing his conversion. The name which he took was Yehoshafat ben Avraham.

In addition to his own spiritual journey, Stoudemire has had a tremendous influence on some of his teammates. Stoudemire’s former Knicks teammate Chris Smith, brother of two-time NBA champion JR Smith, noticed the books and scriptures that Stoudemire would bring into the locker room and the times when Stoudemire would wear tzitzit. Smith said this sparked his curiosity, and he admired Stoudemire’s passion for the religion. Eventually, Smith would begin his own conversion to Judaism and eventually finish and make aliyah.

Since his conversion, Stoudemire has attempted to combat rising anti-Semitism from a number of athletes and entertainers. After comedian and television host Nick Cannon made remarks praising anti-Semite Louis Farrakhan and pushing anti-Semitic conspiracy theories, Stoudemire reached out to him and engaged in a dialogue regarding anti-Semitism. “For me, being a Jewish, African American and understanding the culture, it’s only right to educate them,” Stoudemire said in an interview regarding why he felt the need to reach out to him. 

On October 30, 2020, Stoudemire was hired by the Brooklyn Nets as a player development assistant. Recently, Stoudemire reconnected with his old Maccabi Tel Aviv teammate Deni Avdija when the Nets took on the Wizards. Living in the most Jewish city in the Diaspora, Stoudemire will certainly not be alone in his journey navigating through Judaism. Stoudemire also has the opportunity to serve as a bridge between the Jewish and non-Jewish worlds. In his fight to combat anti-Semitism, Stoudemire has the opportunity to use his status as a professional athlete and coach to influence change.

Zachary Goldstein is a junior at ​Kohelet Yeshiva High School in Pennsylvania. ​He is a Staff Writer for Fresh Ink for Teens.

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