(August 1, 2022 / JNS) “If you could change anything in this world, what would it be?” asked NBA star Enes Kanter Freedom, while seated among 30 Jewish, Christian and Muslim, children during a break in the action at a youth basketball camp he was helping to run this week at the YMCA in Jerusalem.
To Freedom’s delight, the most popular answer given by the children was: “We would want peace!” The 11-year NBA veteran, who currently is a free agent and a well-known human rights activist, was in Israel to lead basketball camps in Jerusalem and Haifa so as to unite players from different backgrounds while spreading his message of tolerance, respect and coexistence through sports.
Born Enes Kanter in Zurich, Switzerland, the 6′10″ center/power forward officially took on “Freedom” as his last name this past November when he was granted citizenship by the United States.
Freedom, whose parents are Turkish Muslims—he was raised in Turkey and moved to the United States as a teenager—has been outspoken against human-rights violations in his home country and against its president, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan. As a result, the Turkish government revoked his passport and issued numerous warrants for his arrest, while retaliating against his family, who still live in Turkey.
Undeterred, Kanter remains vocal in his commitment to supporting Israel and combating racism, xenophobia and anti-Semitism.
On the sidelines of the Jerusalem basketball camp, led by legendary Jewish basketball player Tamir Goodman, Freedom told JNS: “I have been planning this basketball camp for years now. I wanted to go to a place that is home to all the religions at the same time and while there are differences there is coexistence. The most beautiful place for that right now is Israel.”
He noted that “there are different backgrounds, different colors, different religions and cultures, but they are all in the same place. I wanted to do this basketball camp to bring kids together so they can learn how to share, how to win together, how to lose, how to communicate; that was my main goal and we accomplished that.”
Addressing his new last name and U.S. citizenship, he explained that “the word ‘freedom’ means the world to me. After food and water, freedom is the most important thing one can have. Without it, you are not a complete human being. Just sharing the message of freedom to human beings, especially children, that’s the most important thing.”
His trip and the basketball camps were sponsored by the Bnai Zion organization, an American nonprofit dedicated to accelerating Israel’s growth and strengthening the Jewish people through building partnerships with friends and allies across the globe.
Other organizational partners in the basketball camps included “Athletes for Israel” and “Together Vouch for Each Other U.S.”
‘It’s hard to sustain that drive to do good’
Bnai Zion CEO Rabbi Ari Lamm told JNS that “Enes is an extraordinary human being who has seen the worst of humanity, and instead of letting it embitter him, has transformed that into a ferocious desire to see goodness permeate the world.”
Lamm said “this transcends sports, and Enes understands that. Taking people from different walks of life while the world tells them to hate each other and showing them the positive—this is what you can achieve and build if you team up and work together. To me, that is how we as a human race—and the Jewish people here in the State of Israel, alongside Muslims and Christians—are all going to win, recognizing that if we build together, we can be a shining beacon of inspiration and success for the whole world.”
He added that “for someone like Enes, who has dealt with so much … , it’s hard to sustain that drive to do good. That’s why coming to this part of the world … seeing the sites, immersing in the history and experiencing the best that Israel has to offer, we believe he will be remain inspired to keep doing the incredible things he is uniquely empowered to do.”
Bnai Zion COO Justin Hayet told JNS that during the trip, “we have been running around the country 16 to 17 hours a day with Enes, and what I’ve learned is he so much more than just a tall NBA player. He is a special soul. He lives and thrives on the court with the kids, and is such a wonderful and wholesome person; it’s a pleasure to show him this beautiful country.”
Just before returning to the court to work on their dribbling, passing and shooting with Freedom and Goodman, one of the campers asked Freedom: “What got you into activism?”
He answered: “I always wanted to be a voice for those who don’t have one. God gave me a platform, and I asked myself what can I do to educate the next generation. So once you have a platform, with millions of kids potentially following in your footsteps, you can talk about racism, anti-Semitism and how to achieve peace. You have to use that platform to educate millions. And together, we have to make the world a better place.”
Jewish News Syndicate
With geographic, political and social divides growing wider, high-quality reporting and informed analysis are more important than ever to keep people connected.
Our ability to cover the most important issues in Israel and throughout the Jewish world—without the standard media bias—depends on the support of committed readers.
If you appreciate the value of our news service and recognize how JNS stands out among the competition, please click on the link and make a one-time or monthly contribution.
We appreciate your support.