Rabbi Dr. Guy Matalon, Stoudemire’s Rabbi at Ohr Somayach Yeshiva in Jerusalem spoke about the learning experience with the basketball star.
This past Tuesday, the day after being surprisingly eliminated from the Final Four by Maccabi Rishon Le’Zion, Amare Stoudemire arrived as usual to Ohr Somayach. This time it wasn’t to pray or just another class to strengthen his foundation of faith, but to say goodbye - at least for now. That same night, the Hapoel Jerusalem Star flew back to the United States and it’s unclear if he will return to play next season in Israel.
The exclusive interview that Stoudemire gave to Shevii (the Israeli magazine in which this story was pubished) went viral on social media on the eve of Shavuot: The star posted the cover of the magazine on his Instagram account which has over 410,000 followers and received 5,000 likes and comments. The post on this author’s Facebook was seen by over 9,000 people.
“The only difference was that It was harder for Amare to fold into the standard...I believe this is what helped him feel comfortable here.”
Rabbi Guy Matalon (48) from Rechovot, a Dr. of Philosophy from New York University is the head of the beginners program at the yeshiva and was able to get to know Stoudemire over the past half year. “I, along with the other Rabbis at the yeshiva had not heard of him via basketball and we didn’t know who he was. We treated him like any other student,” he recalled. “The only difference was that It was harder for Amare to fold into the standard...I believe this is what helped him feel comfortable here.”
The general public knows who Amare the basketball player is. What can you tell us about Yehoshaphat the student? “We had one on one conversations and I found a very serious person, who wanted to connect to God and come closer to him via the Torah. He is a diligent student who understands quickly and isn’t embarrassed to ask questions. He is very committed to learn. I saw how he was committed to keep the Mitzvot he had learned despite it not being simple due to his present situation, as a basketball player and the fact that his family was far away.”
Many sports fans had doubts about his Israeli citizenship and were cynical about how it was obtained. “When you receive WhatsApp messages from him, in which he asks questions that are related to Shabbat laws and the fact that he arrived day in day out to the Yeshiva, it’s hard to doubt him. He’s sitting here far away from the bright lights, even after he received citizenship and he didn’t need to do any of this to please anyone.”
“Just like King Solomon, he understood that it’s all meaningless.”
After you got to know him, did you have a chance to see him play?
“He didn’t ask me about my salary and I don’t talk to him about basketball” laughed Rabbi Dr. Matlon. “Our Yeshiva is in the mainstream of the Charedi- Litvak world and we are not blinded even if a world class basketball player is learning here. Not that it is something that is not allowed, rather as a policy. A person needs to be on a certain path in the way he teaches in order not confuse his students.”
How did his departure go?
“It wasn’t really a departure. We stay in touch on a regular basis via calls and messages, helping him find people to learn with in the US and there are also online learning.”
If he doesn’t return to Israel, what will be the main experience that you’ll take from the ‘Stoudemire phenomenon’?
“When we see a man like him, who is at the peak of his success in the material world and who has no limitations on a financial level, decides to come closer and learn Torah, it strengthens us all. Just like King Solomon, he understood that everything is meaningless.”