Tag Archives: Orthodox Jews

Jew of the Week: Amar’e Stoudemire

Things You Didn’t Know About the Basketball Legend

Amar’e Stoudemire (Courtesy: JNF)

Amar’e Stoudemire (b. 1982) was born near Orlando, Florida. He started playing basketball in high school, though he only managed to play two full seasons because his struggling family had to move six times. Despite this, his incredible talents were clear and he was named Florida’s Mr. Basketball. Ranked as the number one prospect in 2002, Stoudemire skipped college to go straight to the NBA, getting drafted in the first round by the Phoenix Suns. In his rookie season, he set a points record and won the NBA’s Rookie of the Year award—the first player straight out of high school to do so. After coming very close to the championship many times in Phoenix, Stoudemire tried his luck with the New York Knicks. There he set a franchise record with nine straight games where he scored over 30 points, then led the team to the playoffs for the first time in nearly a decade. Unfortunately, Stoudemire suffered many injuries, including to his knees, his spinal discs, and even retinal damage to his eye. He retired from the NBA in 2016 after 14 seasons, 6 All-Star appearances, and 15,994 points. Having always known his mother was part of the Black Hebrew Israelites, Stoudemire decided to fulfil an old dream and move to Israel to explore his heritage more closely. Meanwhile, he signed with Hapoel Jerusalem and led the team to an Israeli Basketball championship. After two seasons, Stoudemire retired and soon began the Orthodox conversion process. He completed his conversion last summer, taking on the Jewish name Yehoshafat. At the same time, he returned for one more season with Maccabi Tel Aviv and led them to the 2020 Israeli Basketball championship, also winning the League MVP award. Last October, he was hired by the Brooklyn Nets as an assistant coach. He recently made news when the Nets gave him Shabbat off, so he does not appear on the court from Friday to Saturday evening. Stoudemire has been praised both for his extensive volunteer and philanthropic work, as well as his devotion to Torah and Judaism. Over the course of his career, Stoudemire has also appeared in a number of TV shows and films, had a Nike shoe line and his own clothing line, published a series of children’s books, owns a record label, and a kosher winery called Stoudemire Cellars. He also started an educational program where Black and Jewish youth can learn and play basketball together. Stoudemire continues to learn Torah regularly and serves as an inspirational figure to thousands both on and off the court.

Words of the Week

I was always intrigued with the prophets, I was always intrigued by how these guys carried themselves. How they lived their life, how they were so on point with everything, from a righteous standpoint. And so my mindset was like, ‘How do I get to that level?’ It’s a heavy lift, it’s not easy, I’m not sure it’s possible. And so that is what somewhat gave me my love to continue my search, continue to try to clean myself up, clean my character, understand how to carry myself, how to speak properly, how to not use profanity, how to not say certain words, not speak lashon hara.
– Amar’e Stoudemire

Jew of the Week: Ramban

Mystic, Physician, Defender of Judaism

Painting of the Ramban from the walls of the Akko Auditorium

Moshe “Bonastruc” ben Nachman (1194-1270) was born in Gerona (present-day Spain) to a deeply religious Sephardic Jewish family. From a young age he studied with some of the great Sephardic sages of the day, and by the time he was 16 was already recognized as a wise scholar in his own right. He also studied medicine and became a sought-after physician. He was soon the chief rabbi of Catalonia and published several highly-acclaimed works, including glosses on the Talmud and several legal texts. Rabbi Moshe would become known as the Ramban, based on the initials of his name, and also as Nahmanides to the wider world. (The Ramban should not be confused with the Rambam. In fact, the Ramban helped to settle a philosophical dispute that first began with the Rambam in the previous century.) In 1263, Ramban was summoned to publicly debate a group of Dominican friars, before King James I, to settle whether Christianity or Judaism was the true faith. Rabbi Moshe tried his best to avoid the debate, which he knew would be a setup where Judaism could never be shown to win. The king conferred royal protection to him, promising no retribution of any kind. The Ramban gently tore down all the arguments of the Christians, and expertly defended Judaism, later publishing a written account of this famous “Disputation of Barcelona”. As he predicted, the failed friars sought to have him executed for “blasphemy”. The king, however, proved wise and fair, decreeing only a two-year’s exile, and gave the Ramban a gift of 300 gold solidi. (The friars then took their cause to the pope, unsuccessfully.) The Ramban journeyed to the Holy Land and settled in Jerusalem. When he arrived, he found just two Jews left there, following the ravages of the Crusades. He resolved to reinvigorate Jewish life in the Eternal City, building a small synagogue (which still stands today) and re-establishing a vibrant Jewish presence. Henceforth, a Jewish community has never ceased from Jerusalem. The Ramban spent his last days in Acre, where he similarly rebuilt the Jewish community. While there, he wrote his most famous work, the Commentary on the Torah. The commentary is among the first to feature mystical interpretations, since the Ramban was also a renowned Kabbalist. He is considered among the greatest rabbis of all time. Tomorrow, the 11th of Nissan, is his yahrzeit.

Words of the Week

We must believe in freedom of will, we have no choice.
– Isaac Bashevis Singer

Interior of the Ramban Synagogue in Jerusalem’s Old City

Jew of the Week: Simcha Bunim of Peshischa

The Polish Nobility’s Hasidic Pharmacist 

A 19th century woodcut engraving of Simcha Bunim of Peshischa

Simcha Bonhomme “Bunim” Bonhart (c. 1765-1827) was born in Vodislav, Poland, the son of a wealthy German-Jewish merchant father (who was also a rabbi and rationalist philosopher) and a mother that came from a long line of rabbis going all the way back to Rashi. After studying at the top yeshivas in Hungary and Czechia, Simcha Bunim went to Leipzig to also get a solid secular education at one of the world’s top universities. He studied science and majored in pharmacology. After marrying, he settled in Peshischa (Przysucha) and opened up his own pharmacy. His concoctions were so potent and famous that he soon served the Polish nobility. He also continued his father’s merchant business, sold exotic woods, and regularly appeared at the Danzig trade fair. Meanwhile, Simcha Bunim joined the local Peshischa Hasidic group, then under the leadership of a rabbi and mystic known simply as HaYid HaKadosh, “the Holy Jew”. When the Holy Jew died in 1813, Simcha Bunim took over as the new leader. Unlike other Hasidic groups, Peshischa was all about enlightenment and rationalism. Their aims were to synthesize science with Judaism, to develop each member’s personal autonomy, and to inspire people to discover who they are and to think critically on their own. They encouraged people to pray when they really felt like it (instead of praying by rote three times a day) and to walk confidently with an upright posture. Instead of wearing the classic Hasidic robes, Simcha Bunim dressed in a regular suit. His internal Hasidic revolution spread like fire across Eastern Europe—causing Simcha Bunim to nearly be excommunicated by other Hasidic rabbis! Simcha Bunim is also credited with being perhaps the first kiruv (“outreach”) rabbi. While other Hasidic groups at the time simply ignored the secular Jewish world, Simcha Bunim went out of his way to bring secular Jews back into the faith. In fact, he would regularly go to theatres on Jewish holidays in the hopes of inspiring Jews there to come with him to the synagogue instead. While the Peshischa Hasidic movement itself died out shortly after Simcha Bunim’s death, it sparked multiple new Hasidic groups, and had a significant impact on the wider Jewish world as well. Today is Rabbi Simcha Bunim’s yahrzeit.

Words of the Week

I know who I am irrespective of how I am perceived by others.
– Rabbi Simcha Bunim of Peshischa