For those New Yorkers living under a rock, Amar’e Stoudemire is off in Israel exploring Jewish history, and everybody’s shvitzing over whether he’s a Jew or not. Let me be clear: I’m incredibly impressed that he’s interested in learning about different worlds and cultures, particularly in a league where most of our Olympic players in China went to eat at The Cheesecake Factory. So I do think his journey there is an important story. What bothers me is that it’s turned into some sort of debate as to how serious this is and whether he’s Jewish.
The talented Bethlehem Shoals at NBA Fanhouse.com wrote an article clarifying Stat’s Jewish-osity based on an interview with Amar’e's agent Happy Walters (and by the way, yes, those two names are real — I couldn’t come up with something that good on my own).
“He’s not Jewish, it’s all getting blown a little bit out of proportion,” said Walters. “His mother says there’s some Jewish blood on her side, but Amar’e is just a total student of history and had been planning a trip to Israel for awhile. Is it possible [that he's Jewish]? Maybe. We’re going to do some research, but I don’t know where that will go.”
[...] But hang on: Amar’e isn’t pulling this out of thin air, or trying to disrespect the Jewish people. Although it does come down to whether or not you believe Carrie Stoudemire, which is akin to a leap of faith.
Walters explained Stoudemire’s mother Carrie has “mentioned that somewhere back in her lineage there might be some Jewish roots”
In the video below from Sport5.co.il, Amar’e explains it himself this way when asked directly if he’s Jewish:
“Through history, I think we all are. It’s a beautiful culture, it’s the original culture. From a spirituality standpoint, this is where it all started. I feel blessed to be able to come to this understanding at a young age.”
It’s a valid enough point, yet people still seem to want to turn it into a definitive black-and-white statement that he is or isn’t a Jew. I think it’s not that different from how there has been some research that’s shown that say Jesus was black and that perhaps even Adam and Eve were so that it’s possible we all are. If I was to say that, would people then demand that I must purely call myself an African-American? Would they suddenly wonder what my feelings were in regards to hip hop and the jheri curl? (For the record, I’m a fan of both).
Not only does there seem to be an overwhelming desire to be able to clearly put this in some well-defined box, but worse, a strong sense of cynicism. Of course a lot of that stems from the fact that his interest happened to be revealed shortly after he signed with New York, a city known to house a few Jews here and there. C’mon, are people serious? If his goal was to win over the locals, it would’ve been much easier for the dude to just kept going to Yankee games. That said, in a quote I’m about to make up now, Mr. Stoudemire reportedly stated, “In free agency it basically came down to New York, the Utah Jazz and the LA Clippers. While Mormonism and Scientology held strong appeal, I’ve decided to take my talents to the Jews.”
Okay, me fighting cynicism with cynicism is like thinking two wrongs make a right (when we all know you need three wrongs to make a right). Still, the thing that pushed me over the edge and bothered me most was the usually thoughtful Henry Abbott’s TrueHoop piece today. After an opening that rightfully praises the impressiveness of what Amar’e doing, he then cautiously proceeds into:
Maybe I’m being a jerk for even bringing this up.
I just really hope Stoudemire isn’t playing around. Not that I suspect he’s being the slightest bit insincere, but when I hope he’s not going to cycle too quickly through this passion and on to the next, and the next after that.
He goes on to say that he’s concerned due to the fact that Stoudemire has been excited about other things in the past, citing that Stat’s hawked sports drinks and ticket sales companies (plus he’s now apparently a producer on the Broadway musical “Rock Of Ages,” a project originated by, amongst others, none other than his agent, the wonderfully named Happy Walters). He writes:
I’m having a hard time trusting Stoudemire to tell me the difference between his passing fancies and his life passions. They all sound similar out of his mouth.
Really? You can’t tell the difference between him investigating Judaism and swearing an energy drink rocks? Okay, let’s put aside the obvious deals and instead look at the “Rock Of Ages” example which seems to play a larger role in making Abbott suspicious:
[After seeing the show, Amar'e twittered:] ”The Rock of Ages Show is Great. I’m a Producer of this musical. Look forward to the traveling show on Sept 15th. This is 1 of my Projects.”
That’s a musical celebrating an era of rock from shortly before Stoudemire was born. It’s one of his projects? Is this really one of his great passions? Isn’t it really a Walters project, that’s convenient and friendly and possibly a moneymaker for Stoudemire’s camp?
Where does Amar’e say that this is one of his great passions? Magic Johnson owns many movie theaters, Burger Kings and Starbucks; do we wonder if coffee is one of his great passions? Isn’t it pretty clear that it’s an investment? Even if Stat loved the musical and believes in it passionately, it seems odd to lump that in with Judaism. Aren’t these obviously very different worlds?
That’s not to say I believe that the impact of this trip, or the feelings that it’s stirred up in him, will remain just as strong in Amar’e once he returns stateside. But I’d venture to say that’d be true of almost any American Jew who visited the Promised Land. When one’s there, you likely feel more moved and inspired than when you return back to the daily trudge of your life. Does that make the feelings and thoughts any less valid?
Even if in a month he decides that he wants nothing to do with Judaism, for an NBA player to have simply explored a strange new world is a truly wondrous thing. Hell, forget about NBA players, how many 27 year olds in general explore their history and search for deeper meanings in life? That’s why I think it’s wrong that the emphasis of all these stories has been all about whether he’s really Jewish. It focuses on the end result and not the amazing journey.
Warning: the video below may contain images of a tall black man in a yarmulke. Those who have trouble dealing with a potentially unclear world should avoid watching it.