By: Jonathan Levin  | 

All-Star, Coach, Convert: Amar’e Stoudemire Speaks to YU

Editor's Note: A recording of the livestream can be found here, courtesy of Zachary Greenberg.

Amar’e Stoudemire, former NBA all-star and current coach, spoke to Yeshiva University students virtually on Wednesday evening, Feb. 3. In the Q&A moderated by Yeshiva Student Union (YSU) President Zachary Greenberg (SSSB ‘21) and VP of Clubs Jared Benjamin (YC ‘21), Stoudemire discussed his career, conversion and life as a religious Jew.

According to YSU, which organized the event, the Stoudemire event had been in the works since late September. There was no official speaker fee; instead, Stoudemire asked student councils to make a donation to his Diversity University program, which aims to increase dialogue between Black and Jewish students on college campuses.

The event generated much excitement and was attended by over 125 students and faculty. After answering a few questions about his early career and sharing an insider’s perspective on many developments within the NBA, Stoudemire began to speak about his journey to Judaism.

Stoudemire played in the NBA from 2002-2016, primarily on the Phoenix Suns and New York Knicks. He was named rookie of the year and went on to play in six all-star games. After leaving the league due to knee issues, he moved to Israel to learn Torah while also leading Hapoel Jerusalem (which he now co-owns) and Maccabi Tel Aviv to victory in the Israeli basketball championships. He has since undergone an Orthodox conversion to Judaism, released a line of wines and has engaged in activism aimed at bridging Jewish and African American communities. Currently, Stoudemire works as an Assistant Player Development Coach for the Brooklyn Nets, where he recently made headlines for not working on Shabbat.

Stoudemire said that his interest in Judaism was sparked when he was a kid and his mother said that the family should “keep the laws of Moses.” As a teenager, he began learning more about the religion, and continued to do so as a player in the NBA. After leaving the NBA, he studied at Ohr Sameach, a yeshiva in Jerusalem, and later at a yeshiva in Bnei Brak. Last year, he completed his conversion process and returned to the United States. On the advice of his “rebbi,” he has taken the Hebrew name “Yehoshafat.”

When asked what aspect of Judaism resonated with him most, Stoudemire answered “being able to connect with Hashem… being connected to Hashem in a way where my neshama [can] continue to grow.”

The event lasted a full hour, and Stoudemire loosened up as the conversation went on. “I’m not a gefilte fish guy,” he quipped. “I love the concept… keeping you from borer, separating on Shabbos. But the taste… not my deal.” Chulent is a different story. “If it’s made properly with a little extra spice, then we’re good to go.” Comparing playing defense on Shaquille O'Neal to the struggles of Talmud study, Amar’e joked that “when you’re guarding Shaq, you just have to do your best. When you’re learning Gemara, you gotta do more than your best.”

In a response that is sure to get many at YU excited, Stoudemire teased the possibility of coaching the Maccabees Men’s Basketball Team or teaching a class at Yeshiva. “There is always a future with enhancing any program, so I would not rule that out at all,” he said. He also congratulated the Macs for their success in the NCAA tournament last year.

In closing, Stoudemire left attendees with a piece of advice. “The idea is always to stay strong… There [are] going to be times when the yetzer ha’ra [evil inclination] is gonna come after you; there [are] gonna be times that maybe you’ll be a little bit confused, but the ideal is to always keep your mind focused on Hashem. Never disconnect from Hashem and you’ll always find the correct derech — the correct path. So never get discouraged, stay with it, stay strong and keep pushing forward.”

Many students who attended the event were enthusiastic about Stoudemire and his religious journey. Said Noam Miller (YC ‘24), “It was incredible to see how someone who ‘had it all’ found Hashem and connected to Torah.”

A poster for the event

Photo Caption: NBA All-Star Amar’e Stoudemire, spoke to Yeshiva University students virtually and discussed his career, conversion and life as a religious Jew.
Photo Credit: Yeshiva Student Union