Rabbinic Reflections: Issue 26

The Jewish-Black Sky Hook

July 23, 2020

Dear Holy Friends,

I hope this correspondence finds you doing well and in good health.

Life is full of strange connections and unexpected encounters.

I remember when growing up that one of my favorite basketball players was Kareem Adbul-Jabbar. Born as Lew Alcindor, Adbul-Jabbar had a religious awakening and converted to Islam later in life.

I can still picture the seven-foot, two-inch Adbul-Jabbar taking his famous Sky Hook shot. Hook shots had been commonly employed amongst NBA “big men” for many years, but given his height, Adbul-Jabbar’s version was called the Sky Hook because it was impossible to block. It was an athletic move of incredible grace and beauty!

Recently Adbul-Jabbar spoke out against racism (to be expected), anti-Muslim sentiments (also to be expected) and even anti-Semitism (not sure I was expecting that!).

Adbul-Jabbar addressed anti-Semitism in both the worlds of sports and Hollywood. Specifically, he questioned why, in the midst of the Black Lives Matters movement, there has not been much outrage against anti-Semitic messages that several prominent celebrities have shared online.

Adbul-Jabbar cited a series of tweets from Ice Cube, which contained content that Abdul-Jabbar said, “in general implied that Jews were responsible for the oppression of blacks.” He also referred to NFL player DeSean Jackson recent sharing anti-Semitic messages and NBA player Stephen Jackson agreeing with those sentiments. Abdul-Jabbar also called out Stephen Jackson’s support for anti-Semite Louis Farrakhan.

Abdul-Jabbar also pointed out that Chelsea Handler, who is Jewish, shared videos of Farrakhan to her wide social media audience. “That means almost four million people received a subliminal message that even some Jews think being anti-Jewish is justified,” Abdul-Jabbar wrote.

“These famous, outspoken people share the same scapegoat logic as all oppressive groups from Nazis to the KKK: All our troubles are because of bad-apple groups that worship wrong, have the wrong complexion, come from the wrong country, are the wrong gender, or love the wrong gender,” Abdul-Jabbar continued. “It’s so disheartening to see people from groups that have been violently marginalized do the same thing to others without realizing that perpetuating this kind of bad logic is what perpetuates racism.”

Abdul-Jabbar concluded by pointing out that history continues to repeat itself. “The lesson never changes, so why is it so hard for some people to learn: No one is free until everyone is free,” he wrote. “As Martin Luther King Jr. explained: ‘Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality.’ So, let us act like it. If we are going to be outraged by injustice, let us be outraged by injustice against anyone.”

While I obviously applaud the writer’s opinions, I was curious as to why this famous athlete and author had taken to supporting an important Jewish cause. I found out that there exists an unbelievable connection between Jabbar and the Jews.

Jabbar was involved in the production of a movie, based on his book called “Brothers in Arms.” The story describes American troops who liberated Nazi concentration camps at the end of World War II. In fact, Abdul-Jabbar’s own father served on the 761st Tank Battalion, which liberated the Buchenwald Concentration Camp in Germany.

Abdul-Jabbar’s father had reportedly carried an eight year old boy (I assume in pretty bad physical shape) out from the camps and yelled at the German soldiers who remained, “how can you think of this child as the enemy?”

It turns out that the boy immigrated to Israel and began life anew. He studied in various Yeshivoth, formed his new family and eventually served as the Ashkenzic Chief Rabbi of Israel from 1993-2003.

Indeed, Rabbi Israel Meir Lau recalls being rescued from the camps by an African American soldier. That soldier’s last wish to his son, the famous basketball player, was that he should find and meet the boy he saved. Kareem Abdul Jabbar and Rabbi Israel Meir Lau met in the Holy Land in 2011.

Well, now that I know the connection and affinity between these two members of minority groups, I pray that we can learn the lesson of encouraging Achdut (unity) amongst all people created in the image of God.

To do so successfully would be the ultimate Slam Dunk (or at least a beautifully completed Sky Hook)!

I wish you a beautiful and meaningful Shabbat and look forward to seeing you on our virtual court or Zoom this Shabbat.


Rabbi Eric L. Wasser, EdD
201 562 5277

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