When I first read that basketball star Amar'e Stoudemire was Jewish, I felt immediately a surge of pride, as I'm sure many other Jews did. Another accomplished Jew. Another Drake, another Sammy Davis, another Lenny Kravitz, another Jerry Seinfeld, another Omri Casspi. Another Jew who showed that Jews were multi-colored, multi-dimensional and multi-talented.
"See? Jews can jump." The thought made me smile.
But that smile quickly faded away and was replaced with a raised eyebrow as I continued to read: there was no mention of how Stoudemire was Jewish, rather, only vague assertions made on his part that he was "Hebrew through his mother's side".
Yes, even the least Jewishly-educated person out there knows that this is a red flag of the highest proportions. Jews are Hebrews, yes, but we don't really use this archaic term anymore - rather, this term has been adopted by many oddball non-Jewish, non-Hebrew cults to assert that they are the true Heebs and we are... well... not. To say one is "Hebrew", rather than Jewish instantly warns the Jewish person that something is amiss. Black Israelites, Messianics, Jews for Jesus - all these subversive groups consistently and routinely use the word 'Hebrew' as a means to covertly enter the Jewish fold and distinguish themselves from the rabbinic Judaism which world Jewry today descends from. Even perfectly fine and accepted-by-mainstream-Judaism groups as the Samaritans and Karaites use the term 'Hebrew' to distinguish themselves from Judaism and Jews.
So does Stoudemire, apparently.
Yet, no one seemed to find anything amiss here. Stoudemire was famous, and rich; a man of substance in this fickle world where celebrity is the new idol-worship. Jewish publications ran the story with glee: Jerusalem Post, Haaretz, Times of Israel. Everyone was touting Stoudemire's Jewishness without any journalistic integrity of delving into facts, and, instead, promoting this man's assertion. All of these Jewish websites, heralding the coming of Stoudemire as the New Jew on the Block, did nothing to research the most important and basic question: just how is Amar'e Stoudemire Jewish, or, to use his word, 'Hebrew'?
Being in Trinidad has taught me a number of things about Jewishness: it's a prize. There are many weirdos out there who want to be considered Jewish for reasons which have nothing to do with God, the people of Israel, or even Judaism. There's an odd, almost insane compulsion by many to assert they are Jewish and invent fanciful stories to boost their own sense of self-worth. Perhaps they are just as sincere in wanting to be Jewish as any sincere convert, but their methods signal deeply disturbed self-images and egos. I've had members of the local Jewish community lie about their Jewish backgrounds; I've come across messianics who contact me with lies about their true faith, and, instead, assert themselves as Jewish; I've heard Christian Pentecostal pastors deny their true ethnic heritage and claim a Jewish one instead. To be Jewish in many corners of the earth is a thing of pride. Perhaps it's the Jewish sense of survival across the millennia against all odds, or maybe it's the Jewish narrative of chosen-ness which captivates them makes them think the conversion process is beneath them and that they could just be Jews, just because they said so.
Although anti-semitism is on the rise, there is an equally disturbing trend of Jewish-philes on the rise today - Jew-philes who attempt to masquerade as Jewish but who aren't Jews in actuality. These people can do just as much to hurt the Jewish people as an anti-semite, since they do not represent Judaism/Jews/Israelis/Hebrews in any way, shape, or form, yet they purport to know who we are, what we're about, where we are now, and (most alarmingly) to be Jewish. Perhaps my experiences in Trinidad have made my a cynic, but in my mind, these people need to be shunned and ignored by world Jewry. To acknowledge their madness is to give it (and them) credence. Judaism is being painted black by the crazy anti-semites. We don't need another type of crazy to add to the mix.
Comb the annals of the internet, there is not one reference to answer the puzzling question of Amar'e Stoudemire's Jewishness. I did, however, come across one site which investigated the possibility that Stoudemire may have had a Jewish bubbe - but that site, after thoroughly researching marriage certificates and names, came to the ultimate conclusion: Amar'e Stoudemire is not a Jew.
To me, it's all fine and dandy if any random wants to call himself/herself a Jew, but it becomes hurtful when the Jewish establishment takes these people seriously, primarily based on their fame/fortune/combination of the two. Would anyone in the rabbinut schedule a meeting with the lady who wrote me on Facebook in 2010, insisting that she be introduced to the head of the Jewish community in Trinidad because she needed to explain to him how his denial of Yeshua as messiah invalidated his Jewishness and, instead, validated hers? Or would the Jewish Agency consider assisting the lady who claims she is Jewish because her ancestor in the 1600's had been born Jewish?
The answer is a resounding no to both instances.
No rabbi in the world, no one in the Israeli establishment, no one in world Jewry would consider either of these ladies to be Jewish because the fact is, neither of these women are Jewish.
However, what if these women were famous, celebrated for some skill or talent? What if these women commanded fortunes in the hundreds and thousands of millions? Would they be considered Jewish - based on their fanciful tales, ideas, delusions?
This week, Jerusalem Post ran an article which says that Stoudemire is considering making aliya.
Perhaps Jewishness is not so much a matter of descent or conversion, but rather one of bank account and celebrity.
That the Jerusalem Post chose to publish this story that Stoudemire is considering making aliya is a slap in the face of every convert who struggled before a bet din, and every potential candidate for aliya who was told their conversions are not recognised by Israel/RCA/charedim/whoever. It's dismissal of all born Jews who have no documents to back up their Jewishness, and, who, thus, cannot get married or buried in Israel.
I have no problem with Jews of color (hello! I'm a Jew of color!). I love the stories of hearing of Jewish celebrities who don't fit the popular mold of white Jew, maybe because one of their parents was black, or because they converted, or because they found out one of their distant ancestors was Jewish, or because they come from other diverse Jewish communities like the Indian Jews or Ethiopian Jews or Mizrachi Jews.
My problem stems from the fact that the rest of us are put through the wire proving our Jewishness while this man just stands up and says he is and is taken seriously by the establishment - be it Jewish media, the Israeli government and/or the rabbinut. I doubt the Ministry of Absorption in Israel would seriously consider Stoudemire's claims, and I'm pretty certain that the rabbinut wouldn't either. But the mere fact that the defender of truth in the highly democratic world of Judaism and Israel - the media - would continue to give this ridiculous man and his story space in their publications leave me worried for the future of Jewry, and hurt that he would be touted as Jewish when he clearly isn't, just because he is famous and rich.
May the day come that Amar'e Stoudemire joins the Jewish people through the recognised and established medium of conversion. When that day comes, he will be a credit to all of Israel, but as it stands today, Amar'e Stoudemire is not Jewish - and his assertions otherwise should not be given credibility.