Last July, Amar’e Stoudemire made waves when he took a trip to Israel to research his Jewish roots. The trip was embraced by Jews everywhere, including myself, as it is not everyday that a 6-9 athletically gifted NBA All-Star declares himself to be a member of the tribe (a colloquial expression used by Jewish people to refer to other Jewish people). So when I saw former University of Florida power forward Alex Tyus tweet before the NBA Draft that he was hosting his Draft party at the UF Hillel, I thought to myself, “Is another 6-9 athletic power forward joining the tribe?” The answer to that question is yes.
While Amar’e went to Israel to connect with the Jewish roots of his mother, Tyus’ foray into Judaism was not based on discovering his heritage, but based on establishing his own roots within the religion. His journey to Judaism began a little over a year ago in Gainesville. At that time, Tyus and his wife, Alli Cecchini Tyus, were attending different church services in the Gainesville area trying to find a religion they would feel comfortable with moving forward, and eventually a religion they would raise their children in. Both Alex and Alli had grown up Christian, so Judaism was not necessarily a consideration for them. That is, until a Jewish roomate moved in with them and introduced them to the religion.
“We had a roomate move in who was Jewish and we learned more about Jewish life from her,” recalls Alex. “After she introduced us to Judaism we became very interested in it. We started reading more about the beliefs and values of the religion, and realized that we believed the same things Judaism taught, and we would want to practice Judaism going forward.”
That decision came as a surprise to both Alli and Alex’s parents, but Alex says the passion they showed for Judaism and how strongly they believed in converting made their parents incredibly excited for them. Once they reached the decision, they began the formal process of converting. They sought out a rabbi in the Gainesville area who would guide them through the conversion. Alex and Alli then became very involved with the Hillel at Florida, and attended various functions held there for the Jewish students at Florida. They were received with open arms by the members of the community who were thrilled to have the Tyuses join them. While Alex attended many events, he was not able to do everything he would have liked because he was busy helping lead the Gators to the Elite Eight while finishing up his degree.
“It was difficult to balance everything with school, basketball, and the conversion,” he says. “I couldn’t do everything I wanted to because of that, but my wife – who didn’t travel to that many games – got to be a little more involved in terms of doing things every other day at Hillel. Through those events that we went to, we started to really know a lot of people there and the Jewish community had different functions like “Torah on Tap” on Thursdays, where we would meet at a restaurant and talk about different topics relating to Judaism; we’d eat pizza and hang out, so I went to that when I could.