NBA star brings Holocaust education to Muslim students

“I promised myself, I want everyone to know and learn and educate themselves about what happened,” Enes Kanter Freedom told the New York Jewish Week.

By World Israel News Staff

A surprising development occurred recently in New York despite the steep rise in antisemitism: A majority-Muslim high school in Sheephshead Bay, Brooklyn, has added Holocaust education to its curriculum, the New York Jewish Week reported.

The program at Brooklyn Amity School was launched thanks to professional basketball player Enes Kanter Freedom, who describes himself as a “human rights fighter.”

Born and raised in Turkey, the 30-year-old NBA celebrity, himself a Muslim, has become an activist against human rights abuses in his native country and other parts of the world, the report said.

The program was underwritten by The Blue Card, a non-profit that assists Holocaust survivors, and the Turkish Cultural Center of New York, according to New York Jewish Week, and the curriculum was created by Prof. Mehnaz Afridi of Manhattan College, who directs its Holocaust, Genocide & Interfaith Education Center.

“Unfortunately, there is very little education [about] the Holocaust in many Muslim countries,” Afridi told the the paper. “Our students’ memory is only of Israel and Palestine. I really wanted to shift that, to show that Jews and Muslims are very much alike.”

In an interview with New York Jewish Week, Kanter Freedom explained his motivation.

“When I was eight or nine years old, I went downstairs to play with my friends and they were burning Israeli flags. They told me that ‘Israel is bad. Israel is evil. Jewish people are horrible. We should burn their flags. We don’t respect them.’

“And I remember I got so scared. I ran upstairs to my mom, and I was like, ‘Mom, all my friends are burning Israeli flags, they hate Jewish people, they told me that they are evil. What should I do?’

“My mom said, “I’m not going to tell you what to do, but do not hate anyone before you meet them.’  I promised myself that day that I’m not going to hate anyone, any group or any religion or any culture before I meet with those people.”

In New York, he met a Jew for the first time, “one of the nicest guys…

“I was very comfortable, and I realized that the food, the music, the culture and religion is so close to each other. So in my head, I was talking to myself like, ‘Why all this hate?’’’

He went on to play for the Boston Celtics and was invited to a Holocaust Remembrance Day event by the Israeli consul general.

“I was the only non-Jew, the only Muslim guy,” he told New York Jewish Week. “A woman came to me and she was 90 years old. She was a Holocaust survivor. She said, ‘I have never seen a Jew this tall before.’ I was like, ‘Ma’am, you’re so sweet, but I’m not Jewish. I’m Muslim.’ And she said, ‘What are you doing here?’

“I said, ‘Well, I’m here to learn, educate myself so I can educate people around me.’ And she started to tear up. The things that I learned that day. I don’t care who you are — Muslims, Christians, Jews, Catholics; if you believe in God or don’t believe in God. I promised myself, I want everyone to know and learn and educate themselves about what happened.

“I’m going to educate our kids so they can have some empathy, they can have some sympathy, so they can put themselves in other people’s shoes so they can understand them better. If you understand other religions or cultures, if you get to know them better, the better you’re going to respect them and love them.

“That’s why we want to start this initiative. I think it’s so important to me because that’s how we’re going to build our future. That’s how we’re going to start building bridges between Muslims and Jews.”