JERUSALEM – As several NFL players looked on last week in Jerusalem, Patriots owner Robert Kraft received Israel’s Genesis Prize. The award was presented to him by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
“I am delighted to welcome Robert Kraft to the august family of Genesis Prize Laureates. This prestigious award honors Robert’s generous life-long philanthropy, his commitment to the Jewish people, and his love for Israel,” said Netanyahu. “It also recognizes his principled stand against anti-Semitism and efforts by our enemies to undermine the State of Israel through BDS and other similar campaigns. Israel does not have a more loyal friend than Robert Kraft.”
At the ceremony, Kraft announced that he was earmarking $20 million to establish a foundation dedicated to combating anti-Semitism and BDS.
“The new foundation I am announcing tonight is a platform to galvanize the global fight against anti-Semitism, uniting all people of good conscience around this goal,” said Kraft. “My vision is to work to end the violence against Jewish communities. To counter the normalization of anti-Semitic narratives that question Israel’s right to exist, disguised as part of legitimate debate on campuses and in the media. To educate, to inform, and to heal inter-communal relations. In combatting the scourge of anti-Semitism, my solemn ambition is to counter all forms of intolerance in the spirit of the ancient Jewish value of tikkun olam – to heal and repair the world.”
In an interview, Kraft was asked about visiting Jerusalem after winning his sixth NFL championship. “It’s the greatest feeling. I love the city of Jerusalem. I love the sport of football and to be here with the trophies. It’s a chalom gadol, a huge dream” come true, he said.
Meanwhile, the trip offered players like Patriots Super Bowl Most Valuable Player Julian Edelman to visit the country he loves and help coach young Israeli high school players. Last week, during an American Football in Israel (AFI) scrimmage game at the Kraft Family Sports Campus in Jerusalem – and with six New England Patriots gleaming NFL Championship Lombardi trophies on display – Edelman paused to reflect on his visit.
“This is the Holy Land for a reason. It’s the homeland,” he said.
Edelman, who is known to proudly and very publicly display his Jewish heritage and connection to Israel, was in the country alongside 15 other current Patriots players and alumni as part of “Touchdown in Israel III,” the third installment of a VIP trip to Israel for NFL players organized by Patriots chairman and CEO Robert Kraft. Over the years, Kraft has brought dozens of other NFL players from the various teams to Israel, including many Hall of Famers – some of the best to ever play the game.
During the Friday gathering at the sports campus, hundreds of Israeli NFL football fans and players joined to welcome their favorite players.
Another one of the Patriots in Israel was nose tackle Vince Wilfork, who recently retired from the NFL after playing 11 seasons with the team (followed by two with the Houston Texans), and was a member of two Super Bowl-winning teams.
Wilfork told JNS that being in Israel was an opportunity to educate himself on many different religions. “To be able to come to see it all and be taught by those who have been here all their lives, it’s very special,” he said.
While firing passes to a friend on the sidelines of the high school game former longtime Patriots quarterback, Drew Bledsoe, described how his experience in Israel was completely the opposite of what he thought he was going to get after hearing all the negative reports about Israel in the press.
“To see the way the country is portrayed in our media and internationally, and then actually be here and see how different it is from that portrayal, is amazing – amazing people, innovation. It’s such an amazing combination of brand-new and very old, and the soulful and spirituality here … I can’t wait to go back and tell people about it, and then bring my family here.”
Kraft has noted on more than one occasion publicly that it is no coincidence that the team’s success began when he started investing in Israeli football.
“It gives me nachas [“joy”] to see so many young Israelis ready to go play the game that we love,” said Kraft.