Jan 22, 2022

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Former basketball star, Kareem Abdul Jabbar tweeted out an inspirational and heartfelt Yom Kippur message which conveyed sincere respect for Judaism.

A Muslim wishing the Jews a “Chatima tova”

In a video posted to Twitter the day after the holiday, Jabbar appeared in front of a backdrop featuring a Jewish star with the Hebrew word “Shalom” (שלום). 


Jabbar called Yom Kippur “the holiest of Jewish holidays, because it asks believers to atone for their sins and seek repentance.”

Jabbar, a Muslim, expressed his concept of the meaning of the Jewish holiday.

“For me, atonement and repentance are the foundation of any humane civilization. Through prayer, meditation, or simply self-reflection we admit our failings and try to do better. This is humanity at its noblest and our only hope for a just society.”

He concluded by wishing his “Jewish friends” a “gmar chatima tova” (גמר חתימה טובה), the traditional greeting for the holiday. It literally means, “Be inscribed for good”, the intention being that the person be inscribed in the book of life on the day of judgment.

Jabbar: A hero on and off the court

During his 20 season career in the NBA, Jabbar set countless records, and his on-court feats will surely be remembered but his off-court idealism may be overlooked. Born Ferdinand Lewis Alcindor Jr., he converted to Sunni Islam from Catholicism in 1968 adopting an Arabic name that means “the noble one, servant of the Almighty.” In protest of the unequal treatment of African-Americans in the United States, Jabbar decided not to participate in the 1968 Olympic Games. Despite converting, he was critical of Islamist violence. In 2015, he said, “ “I don’t have any misgiving about my faith. I’m very concerned about the people who claim to be Muslims that are murdering people and creating all this mayhem in the world. That is not what Islam is about, and that should not be what people think of when they think about Muslims. But it’s up to all of us to do something about all of it.”

Jabbar and the Jews: A powerful story

Jabbar’s efforts to connect with Jews and Israel are literally too countless to list. In 2017, he worked with Israel’s consul general in Los Angeles, hosting dialogues between Jewish and Muslim leaders to promote mutual respect between Jewish and Muslim communities.

In July 2020,  Jabbar authored a column in The Hollywood Reporter that there has been a “shocking lack of massive indignation” over recent statements on social media by various sports and entertainment figures that perpetuate antisemitic tropes. “If it’s okay to discriminate against one group of people by hauling out cultural stereotypes without much pushback, it must be okay to do the same to others,” Abdul-Jabbar wrote. “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.”

This empathy with the Jewish people may be credited to a close family friend who had a profound influence on Jabbar’s childhood. In World War II, Jabbar’s “Uncle Smitty” served in a US tank division that liberated the Buchenwald concentration camp in 1945. Jabbar went on to author Brothers in Arms about the 761st “Black Panthers,” the first all-black armored unit to see combat in World War II. The tank unit liberated the Gunskirchen Lager concentration camp.

When Jabbar first visited Israel in 1997, he met Israel’s chief Ashkenazi rabbi, Yisrael Meir Lau. Lau, who was liberated from a Nazi concentration camp as a child, told Jabbar, “The first black face I saw in my life was in the broken gates of Buchenwald.” Jabbar’s Uncle Smitty was among the camp’s liberators.