Many freshmen in college don't go into their first day of class with a resume that includes an Olympic Gold Medal, numerous NBA awards, and millions of dollars. But, that's the case for a new Florida International University freshman, Amar'e Stoudemire.
A six-time NBA All-Star and former Miami Heat player, Stoudemire has enrolled at Florida International University (FIU) this semester. He's also working with Hillel at FIU, an organization that develops the new generation of Jewish leaders, to bring together students from the Jewish community and the African-American community. Stoudemire converted to Judaism this past decade. He spoke on Sundial about being a freshman, his NBA career, and what led him to become a Jew.
This interview has been edited lightly for clarity.
WLRN: Was there something that really hit you emotionally that led you through this path?
STOUDAMIRE: I always figure Moses was black and I was like, 'oh I have a connection with this anyway.' I had joy and it felt right for me when my mother was explaining things to me. When I got into my later teens about 17 or 18 I started keeping the clean diet and eating kosher -- clean animals. I just started growing from there. I start keeping Shabbat. I started practicing the holidays in my teenage years like Passover
Was that challenging?
It wasn't easy. It wasn't easy at all. There was times like doing it during Yom Kippur, a Day of Atonement, where you have to fast for 24 hours. You're basically repenting and asking for forgiveness for all your sins throughout the year and you fast that day. Around that time there's training camp and so the training staff will be standing around making sure I don't pass out or faint. I can't drink any water but I'm going through it. That was always a tough time but I managed.
You're still in sort of a conversion. What's that process like?
The idea is to eventually be able to live a righteous lifestyle. And that's not an easy deal, being that there's so much temptation in the world. It takes training. It takes learning. It takes reading and consistent amount of training in order to be able to conquer those temptations.
Your mission is to bring the Jewish and African-American communities together. These two groups share so much painful history. Tell me about the relationship between Jewish people and the African-American community.
There has always been a connection there. I think about the guys before me, I mean Sammy Davis Jr. was an African-American Jew. Lenny Kravitz and even Reggie White was learning with the rabbis back before he passed away, reading and learning Hebrew. There's always been a connection. The similarities between the two also derived from the trauma that took place. Whether it's with slavery with us African-Americans or the Holocaust with the Jewish people. We both understand the oppression and that's where it begins.