Basketball Celebrities Holidays Jewish

Shaq Drops Rosh Hashanah Greeting in Hebrew

In an apparent effort not be outdone by Amar’e Stoudemire’s recent foray into peppering his speech with Hebrew, Shaquille O’Neal (now of the Boston Celtics) offers a Rosh Hashanah greeting to Jews in Hebrew.

“The TMZ website reports that last night at BOA Steakhouse in Hollywood, the 7’1″ superstar became the biggest man on the planet to speak Hebrew!” A TMZ reporter ambushed Shaq and got him to wish all the Jews a “Shanah Tovah” (Happy New Year).

The website suggests calling him “Shaquille O’Nealberg.”

Click here to watch the video.

(c) Rabbi Jason Miller | | Twitter: @RabbiJason |
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Amar’e Stoudemire Thinks He’s Jewish… So Is He?

The wedding of the century, starring Chelsea Clinton and Marc Mezvinsky last Saturday evening, has raised several significant issues for the American Jewish community. Should interfaith weddings with all the Jewish components (chuppah, ketubah, glass smashing, rabbi, and even the unnecessary tallit on the groom) be embraced or rejected? What message is sent when a rabbi co-officiates with a Christian minister? Should rabbis of any denomination perform weddings on Shabbat?

But the question I have yet to hear has to do with Chelsea Clinton. After seeing the groom in a tallit and yarmulke, no one was questioning if he might leave his Judaism behind in this new marriage as Andrew Schiff (great-grandson of the philanthropist Jacob Schiff) did when he married Al and Tipper Gore’s daughter Karenna in 1997. Before the wedding there was some talk on the Web about whether Chelsea might choose to convert to Judaism (which didn’t happen), but never a of Marc Mezvinsky converting to Christianity. So, the question is: What if Chelsea now proclaims herself a Jewish woman without any formal conversion?

There are people out there (the number is probably growing) who were not born into the Jewish faith and have not formally converted, but do consider themselves Jewish. Now, I know that halakhically (according to Jewish law), these individuals are not Jewish, but they can attend just about any synagogue in the world without their status as a “member of the tribe” being questioned. And even if it is questioned, a thorough background check is unlikely. I don’t actually know if Chelsea will proclaim herself a Jew, but it would certainly make for interesting conversation.

And that brings us back to NBA basketball star Amar’e Stoudemire. The newly signed member of the New York Knicks is still traveling through Israel in search of his Jewish roots. So, is he or isn’t he?

As I reported last week, Amar’e was tweeting that he is enjoying Israel and learning Hebrew. When reports surfaced that he was trying to find out if he was actually Jewish, his agent Happy Walters clarified:

He’s not Jewish, it’s all getting blown a little bit out of proportion. His mother says there’s some Jewish blood on her side, but Amar’e is just a total student of history and had been planning a trip to Israel for awhile. Is it possible [that he’s Jewish]? Maybe. We’re going to do some research, but I don’t know where that will go.

But that didn’t end the buzz. Articles in the NY Times and Wall Street Journal both reported on his travels from Jerusalem to the Dead Sea and Eilat and then to Tel Aviv. Early Monday morning, Amar’e had a private shooting session with his personal coach at Nokia Arena with Maccabi Tel Aviv’s chairman of the board Shimon Mizrahi and team manager Gur Shelef observing his skills. Later that day, he met with former player Tal Brody and Mizrahi who invited him to return to Israel to play for Maccabi after his NBA career ends.

Joshua Mitnick writes in the WSJ article: “Sitting poolside at the five-star InterContinental David hotel Monday amid an oppressive Middle Eastern heat wave, the NBA power forward’s head was covered with a knitted white yarmulke, and his words were punctuated with Hebrew. The Jewish skullcap — most often associated with Orthodox Jews when worn outside a synagogue — is “to pay homage to God, Eloheem,” he said. “It’s like praying all day and showing your respect to the creator.”

After reading that I recalled a conversation I had with Amar’e back in 2003 (his rookie year with the Phoenix Suns) when I met him and teammate Joe Johnson at a moped rental location in Miami Beach. My dad and I wound up riding mopeds around South Beach with Stoudemire, Johnson and their friend. Amar’e asked what I did and I replied that I was a student training to become a rabbi. He told me that he’s studied the Torah and that he knew a few Hebrew words. He didn’t mention that he thought he was Jewish, but he showed me a Star of David tattoo that he had on his hand.

Perhaps the most insightful view into Stoudemire’s motivation for coming to Israel and whether he considers himself Jewish is the face-to-face interview conducted by an Israel Sports 5 reporter following Amare’s workout. Wearing a kippah, Stoudemire talks openly about his spirituality and how he’ll observe Jewish customs in the future including celebrating Shabbat, fasting on Yom Kippur, and keeping Passover.

The key point is that Stoudemire explains that Judaism to him is more about belief than actually being Jewish. He talks about his upbringing, love of Scripture study, and his visit to the Kotel (Western Wall) in Jerusalem.

So, if Amar’e Stoudemire considers himself Jewish, will he be embraced by a segment of the Jewish community that doesn’t care much of the technicality that he’s not actually Jewish? Does it matter?

Here’s the full video of Amar’e Stoudemire’s interview in Tel Aviv after working out his hotel gym:

(c) Rabbi Jason Miller | | Twitter: @RabbiJason |
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The Internet’s Effect on Jewish Newspapers

The Jewish Telegraphic Agency (JTA) likes to think of itself as the Jewish AP. The JTA is a non-profit news service that disseminates the happenings in the Jewish world as soon as they happen. Ideally, they try to scoop all the other news agencies and print media.

The long-time publisher of the JTA, Mark Joffe, stepped down suddenly on July 25 and Ami Eden, who was serving as editor, took the reins. The Jerusalem Post reports that there was more to the JTA’s press release than was reported. “Over the past two decades, US Jewish media and print journalism in general have been in steady decline due to dwindling readership and loss of ad revenue to the Web. When the recession hit two years ago it dealt a devastating blow to an already weakened industry.”

The Jerusalem Post interviewed new JTA publisher Ami Eden, who said that ideas for collaboration among the Jewish print media were percolating and would materialize between 12 and 18 months. “I think it’s clear that most American Jewish newspapers haven’t figured out how to make money online. Why should we not try to create a unified Web presence having one big Web site with a team thats constantly keeping it fresh? We clearly could be pulling our technological resources and sharing the Web traffic. If we’re all investing in the same Web traffic, it becomes a great idea,” Eden argued and then, according to the Jerusalem Post, declined to go into further detail.

Bob Goldfarb, president of the Center for Jewish Culture and Creativity, writes on the eJewish Philanthropy blog, “The ‘one big Website’ that Eden envisions could similarly be a shared platform operated by a member-owned JTA that preserves the identities of participating local papers while enabling central coordination of content. JTA editors could select stories from member papers that are of national interest and include those in a National News feed on the platform. That would free local editors to focus on local news and lower JTA’s domestic news-gathering costs at the same time. Centralizing site maintenance and advertising sales, while enabling local ad sales and local content control, would reduce costs locally. It also would vastly simplify JTA’s national marketing to readers as well as to advertisers. And owning a stake in the shared platform can be a powerful incentive for newspapers to participate in it.”

As both an avid reader of Jewish newspapers and an uber-connected Web user, I’ve been thinking about many of these issues myself.

I’m a Detroit native and have been reading the since… well, probably since not long after I learned read. For decades it was how I fell asleep on Friday nights. Following Shabbat dinner at my parents’ home, my mother would read the DJN, and then I would take it to bed and fall asleep reading it cover-to-cover beginning with the back pages first (obituaries) as is the local tradition. The prevailing joke was that if you didn’t find your own name in the back pages, you could continue reading the rest of the paper!

The paper contained the local, national and world (mostly Israel) news. It was how we found out about what was going on in the “Jewish world” around us. A few years ago, the paper switched to a Thursday delivery which actually upset many people. Even though we could get the DJN a day earlier, it seemed to upset the rhythm of the week – and the tradition. Now the DJN (laid out like the actual paper in its entirety) is available free to subscribers early Wednesday mornings on the Web. Even though I’m reading it almost a full three days earlier, the news is already stale. By the time the JTA feeds get to the DJN to place in their paper I’ve already gotten that news by e-mail (JTA News Alerts) or read it on the Web at or the Forward or NY Jewish Week or even the NY Times. Not to mention the immediate Google Alerts I receive with keywords like “Jewish” and “Israel.”

When I come across these news stories in the DJN’s print paper there have already been updates, changes and resolutions. The local coverage in the Jewish papers is much the same. Because of e-mail, Twitter, Facebook, and text messaging, the flow of information is so quick that the news is old by the time it gets in the paper. Funeral homes send out daily e-mails with death notices, and synagogues, schools, and organizations send out e-mail alerts as soon as a death is reported. By the time the deaths are listed in the paper everyone already knows about it and the funeral has already occurred. Life-cycle events like births, bar/bat mitzvahs, weddings, and anniversaries are announced for free on Facebook which makes the announcements in the paper less exciting to read.

But all of this shouldn’t be spoken about in negative terms. Maybe it is the demise of print media, especially for regional Jewish newspapers, but this should just force everyone involved to think outside-the-box.

I think Ami Eden is on to something. The freshness he brings to JTA should be contagious around the country (and I hope it is). One of the first things Ami does should be convening a meeting (virtual or face-to-face) of all Jewish newspaper editors and publishers to collaborate on his idea of “one big website.” The advertising dollars will be there, I’m sure. This is just another example of how the Internet has removed the borders in the Jewish community. I know I’m not the only Jew who’s already gotten his news by reading the JTA feed and visiting the websites of the Forward, The NY Jewish Week, Haaretz, and The Jerusalem Post before my local Jewish newspaper even hits my mailbox.

I have great respect for everyone in the Jewish newspaper business, but let’s focus on the future… because it’s here.

(c) Rabbi Jason Miller | | Twitter: @RabbiJason |
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Chelsea Clinton’s Wedding Guest List

Now that Chelsea Clinton and Marc Mezvinsky have gotten married in Whitebeck, NY, some details of the wedding have been reported. The New York Times reports that the interfaith ceremony was co-officiated by Rabbi James Ponet and Reverend William Shillady. Jim Ponet, a Reform rabbi, is Yale University’s Jewish chaplain. His official title is director of the Joseph Slifka Center for Jewish Life at Yale, which is the campus Hillel there.

The NYT also says that the “family said the ceremony would celebrate and honor elements of both traditions. It would include friends and family reading the [Sheva Brachot] Seven Blessings, which are typically recited at traditional Jewish weddings following the vows and exchange of rings.”

Genevieve de Manio

According to this photo the groom wore a kippah (yarmulke) and tallit (prayer shawl). The tallit is not required at Jewish weddings, though some grooms choose to wear one and some grooms choose to wear the white kittel (robe).

Supposedly a ketubah (wedding document) was also witnessed and signed before the ceremony.

Since a guest list hasn’t been released, I decided to come up with a quick list of people I am certain were not there.


  1. Kenneth Starr
  2. Monica Lewinsky
  3. Newt Gingrich
  4. Rush Limbaugh
  5. Sarah Palin
  6. Bill O’Reilly
  7. Ann Coulter
  8. Dick Cheney
  9. Linda Tripp
  10. Paula Jones
(c) Rabbi Jason Miller | | Twitter: @RabbiJason |