The Maccabiah Games have always been a mix of the sublime and the ridiculous, from moving displays of international Jewish unity to typical Israeli foibles — a tennis match this week was interrupted by a nearby military exercise.
This year’s games are no exception: from the inspiring side of the ledger, a Cuban delegation has managed to get a spot at the games for the first time, despite the lack of diplomatic relations between Cuba and Israel. And on the more surreal side, Knicks Power Forward Amar’e Stoudemire posed back-to-back with Israeli President Shimon Peres, which helped dispel rumors that the 89-year-old diplomat is considering a professional basketball career.
And, combining both the sublime and the ridiculous, Dr. Jane Katz, a 70-year-old swimming instructor from New York, joined the games for her 14th time since she first began competing in 1957.
Jerusalem’s Ben Yehuda pedestrian mall was teeming at dusk on Sunday with people out enjoying the cool summer evening. Surprisingly, not many of them seemed to notice an extremely tall celebrity among them. It was New York Knicks forward Amar’e Stoudemire doing some souvenir shopping with his wife, Alexis, and some of their kids.
Stoudemire is in Israel for the Maccabiah Games, which opened July 18. As assistant coach for the Canadian basketball team, he is based in Jerusalem, where the various basketball venues are located. This coaching gig has afforded Stoudemire the chance to return to Israel following his first visit to the Holy Land in 2010. That trip was sparked by his interest in learning about and connecting to his Jewish heritage on his mother’s side.
Last Thursday, prior to the Maccabiah Games opening ceremony, Israel’s President Shimon Peres invited Stoudemire to play for Israel’s national basketball team. The meeting also served as a photo op to show off the comical height difference between the 90-year-old Peres and the 6’11” Knicks player. In June, Stoudemire expressed interest not in playing for Israel, but rather in buying a stake in the Hapoel Jerusalem basketball team.
On Ben Yehuda Street, Stoudemire, wearing his bright red Canadian team shirt and large knit kippah, entered a Judaica gift shop with his family. This reporter went up to him and asked him if he’d care to comment on the shopping in Jerusalem. Stoudemire politely declined to answer by saying, “No interviews now.”
It appeared that the Knicks player did not purchase anything at that particular shop, but the large shofars (rams’ horns) on display seem to have caught his eye. Before leaving the store, he picked one up and tried to blow it, but no sound came out. It looks like he’ll need some practice—and not only on the court as he recovers from the knee injury that caused him to miss much of the 2012-‘13 NBA season.
Perhaps trying to invoke the good fortunes of his Jewish ancestors, New York Knicks Power Forward Amar’e Stoudemire sported a yarmulke this past weekend, ahead of the Knicks sixth play-off game against the Indiana Pacers.
Attempting to bring some spirituality to the sport, Stoudemire, who found out his mother was Jewish back in 2010, was wearing a black velvet yarmulke when he spoke to reporters at a shootaround hours before the game Saturday morning.
When one reporter asked if he was wearing the religious item for good luck, Stoudemire responded with a “Shabbat Shalom,” according to the New York Post.
Stoudemire has turned to his Jewish roots in the past for some luck. In March, he put together a minyan before undergoing surgery for a fractured knee, and he wore a yarmulke and talit to his wedding back in December.
Unfortunately, the yarmulke did not bring Stoudemire any luck, as the Pacers beat the Knicks Saturday night, 106 to 99.
Maybe next time he should refrain from working on Saturdays.
Amar’e Stoudemire was just asking to be parodied.
The New York Knick’s out-of-left-field Tweets (e.g. “I’m going 2 Israel 2 study Hebrew. It’s time 2 get a better understanding on who we R”) left everyone (including us) speculating about his possible Jewish roots.
Now some mysterious Twitter user has taken this to its logical conclusion. Fake Amar’e — with tweets like “The Seinfeld show is so much funnier now, imma have to get the box set and watch it all over again” — is frightfully close to Stoudemire’s real newfound (and occasionally absurd) enthusiasm for Judaism.
While Jewish New York Knicks fans may wonder if signing NBA superstar Amare Stoudemire was worth the $100 million price tag, as well as the loss of all-star center and all-around mentsch David Lee, they can at least take comfort in the fact that the 6-foot-10-inch power forward has taken an interest in Judaism.
Stoudemire, picked up by the Knicks in a failed attempt to lure Lebron James to Madison Square Garden, is apparently making a trip to Israel. From his Twitter account, dated July 24: “I’m the new Reggie White. (RIP) I’m going 2 Israel 2 study Hebrew. It’s time 2 get a better understanding on who we R. Follow me !! Shalom”
Responding to reports of Stoudemire’s trip, Sacramento King’s Israeli superstar Omri Caspi told AOL Fanhouse’s Elie Seckbach not only that Amare’s mother is Jewish, but that he recently got a Star of David tattoo.