American basketball legend Kareem Abdul-Jabbar will visit Israel in July and meet with Rav Israel Meir Lau to discuss a film that he is making about World War II, Rav Lau said recently.
The film is based on the book “Brothers in Arms”, which Abdul-Jabbar co-authored and deals with the American troops who liberated Nazi concentration camps in the end of World War II. Abdul-Jabbar’s own father served on the 761st Tank Battalion, which liberated the Buchenwald Concentration Camp in Germany.
Among the Jews rescued from the camp were two children: Rav Lau and his brother, Naftali Lavie. Abdul-Jabbar and Rav Lau met for the first time 14 years ago, during the former’s first visit to Israel.
“The fact that such a famous basketball player, and a Muslim, is about to attach himself to the Holocaust issue is very exciting,” he said. “I will certainly give my blessing to this initiative.”
The retired athlete will arrive early in July as a guest of the Foreign Ministry and the Israeli Consulate in New York, and will participate in the Jerusalem Film Festival, where he will present the basketball documentary that he produced, “On the Shoulders of Giants.”
Rav Lau said that Abdul-Jabbar’s father, Ferdinand L. Alcindor, had a dying wish: “That his son visit Israel, and meet the little boy that he rescued from Buchenwald and turned into a prominent rabbi.”
Rav Lau said he clearly remembers how an African American solider came up to him during the liberation, picked him up, and told the residents of the German city of Weimer: “Look at this sweet kid, he isn’t even eight yet. This was your enemy, he threatened the Third Reich. He is the one against whom you waged war, and murdered millions like him.”
Decades later, Rav Lau said, his rescuer’s son found him.
“I think that what he is about to do is a very significant contribution to human solidarity. It comes to say that there is no discrimination between white and black people,” Rav Lau said. “They were among the liberators as well, and they understand better what it is like to go from slavery to freedom.”
Abdul-Jabbar, who towers at 7′ 2” (2.18 m), was born in 1947 in New York as Ferdinand Lewis Alcindor Jr. He became known as one of the best basketball players of all time, and retired in 1989 after 20 seasons. In 1971 he converted to Islam and changed his name. After retiring from basketball he became a historian, writer, actor and producer.