(April 16, 2018 / Embassy of Israel in Washington, D.C.) On Nov. 23, 2015, the New England Patriots observed a moment of silence before kicking off their game against the Buffalo Bills in memory of Ezra Schwartz, an American yeshivah student who was murdered in a terrorist attack while studying in Israel. How did the Patriots come to this unusual nexus of American sports and Israel? The answer is simple: Robert and Myra Hiatt Kraft.
Robert Kraft was born in Brookline, Mass., in 1941; Myra Hiatt was born a mere 35 miles away in Worcester the next year. He was raised in a Sabbath-observant Jewish household; she was born to Lithuanian Jewish immigrants. The couple met in Boston and married in 1963, the same year Bob graduated from Columbia University and the year before Myra graduated from Brandeis University. They spent their honeymoon in Israel.
After college, Bob entered the world of business—a field in which he proved wildly successful. He built up a veritable business empire, and in 1994, purchased the New England Patriots, who have since sold out every single home game and won five Super Bowl championships.
Myra led the couple’s philanthropic endeavors. The Kraft family is well-known for their charitable contributions, donating more than $400 million to a variety of causes relating to education, health and culture. Staying faithful to their Jewish roots, the Krafts maintained a special focus on supporting initiatives that foster ties to Jewish identity and Israel. They have generously donated to American Jewish organizations, in addition to launching the “Passport to Israel” program, affording Boston’s Jewish high school students the opportunity to visit the Jewish state. Together with Myra’s father, Jacob Hiatt, the Krafts funded two joint comparative religion professorships between Brandeis University and College of the Holy Cross to promote greater understanding between Christians and Jews. In Israel, the Krafts also helped develop a sister-city relationship between Haifa and Boston, as well as donated towards the absorption of Ethiopian immigrants.
Merging Bob’s love of football with their joint love for Israel, the Krafts have worked to bring American football to the Jewish state. “My late, darling wife Myra always used to tell me that until I start building football in Israel, I would not win anything with the Patriots. That happened in late 1999, and we won our first Super Bowl in 2001. Now we have five championships, and I can’t ignore the connection between our continuing to support development in Israel and our great accomplishments,” he said.
Bob has led NFL players on trips to Israel for many years, but none more inspiring than in 2015, when for the first time, he led a delegation of 19 Hall of Famers on a historic trip called “Touchdown in Israel.” Two years later, he brought a second delegation of Hall of Famers, including NFL legends Jim Brown and Joe Montana. Highlights of the emotional and spiritual trips were featured in CBS Sports and NFL Films documentaries viewed by millions.
The Krafts have also funded Israel’s first women’s flag football league, as well as the Kraft Family Sports Campus in Jerusalem, which includes the first and only standardized American football field in Israel.
Although Myra passed away in 2011, the Kraft family continues to be a pillar of Jewish philanthropy. In his commitment to strengthening Jewish identity and the Jewish state, Bob continues the legacy of this remarkable couple.