How Jewish Is Amar'e Stoudemire?
It explains everything, and nothing. The reaction to this news, dislodged by Israeli army radio and delivered via Ha'aretz, was a mix of bemusement and for us Chosen People, muted ecstasy. Before Jews literally owned and ran this sport, we owned and ran it on the court.
Everyone thought that Omri Casspi-fever was about ethnic pride. That would make sense, if Israel were America and the Diaspora didn't make a difference. Really, we just wanted someone who could play on our team. That, and not attitudes about race and "real" Jews, explains why Jordan Farmar has never been embraced.
Give us a five-time NBA All-Star and sure, he's one of us. Small technicality: having played on the USA Senior Men's Team, Amar'e can't ever suit up for Israel in the Olympics. Still, though, this isn't just Kobe Bryant joking about conversion; it's a bonafide superstar declaring for all the world to see that he's a member of the tribe.
Okay, now dispatching with all political correctness, and putting aside all personal investment, it's hard to know what to make sense of Stoudemire's claim. When the signs first started, many suspected some ultra-Christian thing -- he did, at one point, reference Reggie White -- or one of the many Black Hebrews sects. Boxer Zab Judah was born into one of those, and I don't remember ever being told that he was a hero for my kind.
Amar'e has "Black Jesus" emblazoned on his neck; during the SB 1070 controversy, he gallantly lent his support to the Latino people because they were one of the twelve tribes. It's a little odd that Amar'e didn't know this until age 28, since he seems the inquisitive type. And the family's from Orlando, not Miami.
But it's hardly impossible, or implausible. The great, and oppressive, thing about Judaism -- really, the only great and oppressive thing about it -- is that it's passed down through the mother. So while Nate Robinson's Fillipino heritage recalls the one-drop rule, the Amar'e Question is pretty straightforward.
Carrie Stoudemire, a Jew? For all we know, she can trace one small sliver of his family all the way back to the Holy Land. Or, the lineage could have been kick-started by a woman converting. The bottom line though, is that African American Jews aren't unheard of. Michelle Obama's cousin is the rabbi of a predominantly black congregation in Chicago. This New York Times article goes even further in making the point.
(Incidentally, Casspi's on board, matter-of-factly acknowledging Stoudemire as Jewish. He may even know more than we do -- which admittedly, is not that much at the moment.)
Amar'e Stoudemire, as you may have heard, is headed to the Knicks for the next six years. New York just happens to be the most Jewish city this side of Israel. Jeremy Lin ain't got nothing on this. If Lin is a magical underdog with the whole city behind him, Stoudemire the Jew would be instantly beloved by New York, watch all criticism fall away, and find himself with tons of good will to burn. Knicks fans are notoriously harsh, judgmental, and at this point, darn cynical. If Amar'e can back up his claims, though, we could be in for a long, long honeymoon.
He can have his Bar Mitzvah at Madison Square Garden. Sit out the first night of Passover when the Knicks are in the playoff hunt, but then return to score 40 and beat the Heat. The photo ops with the Orthodox community would be endless; an unprecedented age of harmony between two peoples would dawn.
This is, in other words, either the publicity coup of the century, or a stunt that leaves Jews wondering about either Amar'e's intelligence or our own desperate desire to find a Jewish Jordan.
Maybe there's something to be said for Stoudemire fervent, if possibly misguided, interest in all things Jewish. But my sense is that for now, we're all willing to take the leap of faith and welcome him into the fold. After all, given the delicacy of claiming Jew in New York, you would think Happy Walters (his Jewish agent) would have advised him against this summer awakening if it was all nonsense.
I don't anticipate a backlash if Amar'e turns out to be a well-meaning, if misguided, tourist. He's talked a good one, and that's still worth something. STAT can get the honorary degree -- in the same way that rumors of David Lee's Jewishness, never confirmed nor disproven, made him a fan favorite. Needless to say, though, it's nothing compared to the righteousness of Amar'e Stoudemire, Jew.
Yesterday, when the news broke, Amar'e was on a flight to Jerusalem. As he hurtled across international airspace, thousands of young men with myself awaited his landing with bated breath. I assumed that all would be revealed when he touched down, and I could get to dancing the streets.
Today, there's a Jerusalem Post piece, with quotes from Stoudemire, that manages to clear up absolutely none of the confusion. He refers to himself as a "Hebrew", which is a red flag; I don't think I've ever heard anyone refer to themselves as "Hebrew", unless he was on public access or yelling at me on the street about how his costumed crew were the real Jews. We'll see if Amar'e visits Dimona, like Whitney Houston did in 2003.
We also haven't even touched the small matter of Carrie Stoudemire herself -- hardly the most stable or rational person on the planet.
Still, for now things remain murky. And no news, as they say, is good news.