Thursday, April 30, 2009

Kareem Abdul’s Uncle

Guest Post by Rabbi Dovid Landesman

It is just amazing what a casual little post like my last one can generate. The following story is quite amazing. And it reinforces my faith in the American people. It was sent as a comment to the last thread. I offer it here as a guest post.

In the late 80's [I'm not sure of the year, memory is a precious thing to lose], an NBA all-star basketball team came to Tel Aviv to play an exhibition game against Maccabee Tel Aviv [the game is in itself worth a story].

After the game, then Chief Rabbi Lau invited Kareem Abdul Jabbar and his teammates to a reception. Needless to say, the entire country [or at least those who followed basketball] could not figure out why Rabbi Lau would do such a thing.

Rav Lau later explained to the press that Jabbar [originally named Lew Alcindor] was the nephew of the first American soldier who entered Buchenwald when the American army entered the camps in 1945. Rav Lau was eight years old at the time and the sight of a extremely tall black soldier made an indelible impression and he memorized the name on the tag that the soldier wore.

When he discovered that Jabbar/Alcindor was in Israel [I would conjecture that Rav Lau's son was a fan of Maccabbee] he felt that he owed the family hakarat ha-tov and therefore made the reception.

Many years later, I heard a talk that Jabbar gave at Beth Jacob of Beverly Hills where he retold the story, mentioning that he had been amazed that Rabbi Lau a]had remembered his uncle's name and b] gone to the trouble of making a reception to express his gratitude. He told the audience that it had been a life lesson on what it means to express thanks.

Perhaps there are basketball players can teach us a little bit about midos.

Parenthetically, I would love to hear anyone who might have a reading on why LeBron James of the Cleveland Cavaliers nominated Jay Schottenstein as his candidate for membership in Time's list of the 100 most important Americans, citing his sponsorship of the ArtScroll shas specifically.