NBA Hall of Famer, two-time world champion and team USA Olympic gold medalist Ray Allen conducts a training session for kids at the YMCA in Jerusalem, on May 15, 2022. Credit: Gali Tibbon/America’s Voices in Israel.
by Josh Hasten
(JNS) — NBA Hall of Famer Ray Allen wrapped up a whirlwind tour of Israel this week, taking time to speak with members of the press before heading back to the United States.
Allen, a two-time world champion and team USA Olympic gold medalist, was in the country as a guest of America’s Voices in Israel together with the Ted Arison Family Foundation. The America’s Voices in Israel organization has brought many celebrities, influencers and high-profile, opinion-makers to Israel over the years, enabling them to experience the country for themselves so they can share its realities with their family, friends and followers.
Sitting in the lobby of a Jerusalem hotel on May 15, the final day of his week-long visit, Allen told JNS, “There is something fascinating about being here and connecting to the Holy Land … I’ve learned that Israel is an incredible country.”
He added, “I’ve had some of the best food that I’ve ever eaten, and I’ve connected with some very kind people. The cities that I’ve traveled to Jerusalem, Tel Aviv, Nazareth, these are places that everyone should visit. The history of the world moves through Israel. For any student of history, being in Jerusalem is where it begins. It’s not just about religion, it’s about people, how the generations of man have grown over the years. You learn a lot about that here.”
When asked if he could pinpoint the highlight of the visit, Allen said emphatically, “I don’t compare, because comparison is the thief of joy. I like to believe that I enjoyed everything. From one day to the next there was something else to learn.”
Allen has also become a well-known advocate for Holocaust education. He was appointed by U.S. President Barack Obama to serve on the board of the United States Holocaust Memorial Council, which serves as the governing board of trustees for the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington.
Asked why he accepted the role, Allen said “On the board, you try to find ways to raise more awareness about the museum and to use the museum to teach the lessons of the past and help people fight anti-Semitism, hate and racism. The museum is at the core of trying to help connect people and send out that message.”
He had had the opportunity to meet Holocaust survivors and the families of survivors, he said, which “has allowed me to keep the memories of those [who perished] alive so that people never forget.”
Accompanying Allen on the America’s Voices in Israel trip was former Chicago Bulls player Scott Burrell, who won a championship with the team in 1998.
Burrell told JNS that “The whole trip has been unbelievable, more than I could have ever imagined. It’s emotional and touching and it’s something that everyone needs to come and do. If you really want to obtain knowledge, come here and see it for yourself. I’ve enjoyed every minute of it.”
After speaking with members of the press, Allen and Burrell walked over to the nearby Jerusalem YMCA, where some 50 Jewish, Christian and Muslim girls eagerly awaited them, looking forward to hearing them speak and participating in a training session.
The young players are part of “Peace Players Middle East” an international organization that use basketball to promote understanding in communities where there is division and tension.
Before starting the drills, Allen addressed the children in English, with his message being translated into Hebrew and Arabic.
“You remind me of myself at your age, holding the basketball in my hands and wanting to succeed, to get involved. As a child I lived all over the world as my dad was in the Air Force, and I always wanted to fit in. Every place I traveled to, I played basketball. I didn’t know anyone but wherever I played, I would make friends,” he said.
Holding up a basketball, he asked, “Do you all believe this thing is magical? This thing will take you all around the world.”
He concluded, “I can’t imagine what you go through every day, but the thing I learned is that friendships I built because of basketball stayed friends for life. Take basketball, use basketball, to allow you to change the world.”
David Arison added that “whatever we want to achieve, we can learn so much from Ray and the example he has set.”
Rabbi Irwin Katsof, director of America’s Voices in Israel, told JNS that he was grateful for the Arison Foundation for making this trip possible.
“Our goal in bringing Ray and others [to Israel], is to expose high-profile individuals to the beauty and power of Israel. What people see on CNN or other news channels is just a snapshot of Israel, and they really don’t get the depth and power and diversity of this country.”
Bringing to the country someone like Ray gives not only him but his 2.5 million followers on Instagram a chance to get a deeper look and make their own decisions, said Katsof. “We don’t influence or direct, we just want them to walk the streets and let them take it all in for themselves,” he added.
He stressed, however, that it wasn’t only about the metrics.
“The hearts of those who come on our trips are touched, and then they become lifelong advocates, supporters and friends, and that’s far more important than basic numbers,” he said.