The green carpet, so to speak, was rolled out on Tuesday morning in Jerusalem for the auspicious inauguration of the Kraft Family Sports Campus.
With the emotional ribbon-cutting ceremony in the Arazim Valley led by Mayor Nir Barkat, and with Robert Kraft, three of his sons and the 18 visiting Pro Football Hall of Famers in attendance – not to mention a surprise guest in NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell – the Israeli capital’s latest landmark of impressive athletic infrastructure was officially opened.
“Thousands of years ago, Jewish pilgrims would pass through this very site on their way to the Temple,” said Director of the International Office of Jerusalem Partnerships Brachie Sprung. “Now this will once again be a point of pilgrimage for sports lovers and enthusiasts from around the world.”
Spread over approximately 25 acres of land, the campus encompasses, at the outset, three regulation-size sports fields – one natural grass and two artificial turf, with one of them representing the country’s first fully-marked official American football field – locker rooms, administrative offices, a central pedestrian thoroughfare, parking and a new access road.
Plans in the pipeline for future expansion of the campus include a gym, basketball courts, baseball fields and a whole array of state-of-the-art sports facilities.
“A gift like this is not just a donation, but an investment in our sport development here in Israel and the growth of our entire community,” said Uzi Dayan, the president of Mifaal Hapayis, which together with the Toto is a key partner in the project. “So from the bottom of our hearts, and in the name of all Israelis, thank you very much Mr. Kraft!”
The symbolic symmetry of the new Kraft Family Sports Campus being located just off of Israel’s Route 1 was noted, a poetic parallel to the New England Patriots’ Gillette Stadium and the US Route 1 journey required to get there.
Indeed, Kraft regularly mentions the connection he feels between his success with the Patriots and his love of Israel.
“My late, darling wife Myra always used to tell me that until I start building football in Israel, I would not win anything with 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.”
The 76-year-old Kraft was introduced to a standing ovation by the more than 400 attendees on Tuesday and after expressing his gratitude to the presence of the “Gold Jackets” – featuring Lem Barney, Jerome Bettis, Jim Brown, Cris Carter, Dave Casper, Eric Dickerson, Marshall Faulk, Joe Greene, Willie Lanier, Joe Montana, Andre Reed, Mike Singletary, Bruce Smith, John Stallworth, Roger Staubach, Andre Tippett, Aeneas Williams and Ron Yary – he reverted to Hebrew for a full five-minute heartfelt address.
“Shalom Chaverim. It is an honor to be here in Jerusalem, the holy city, the center of spirituality for all of the nation of Israel,” said Kraft. “When I reached the age of Bar Mitzva, I got a pair of Tefillin from my father, of blessed memory. Every morning I would put them on and say the Amida while facing the direction of Jerusalem and dreamed of the day when I could visit Jerusalem and pray at the Kotel.
“Today, I have the privilege and honor of standing here before you and I continue to thank God that I have the ability, with my family, to help in the building of Jerusalem, and with God’s help to continue to do so in the future.”
Barkat also conveyed his gratitude and closeness to Kraft and noted the importance of building sports programs and infrastructure in Jerusalem, with the new complex to first be used for competition at the upcoming Maccabiah Games.
“These fields will be used extensively by all types of athletes. They are eager and thirsty. You will see people from all backgrounds – Muslims, Christians and Jews – all using these fields together. We know what sharing a team means, to bring people together and appreciate the common denominator between them. This is one of the major reasons why I support and develop the sports in our city so extensively.”
Goodell, whose relationship with the Patriots and Kraft seemed to have become strained in the aftermath of the Deflategate scandal, flew in himself on Tuesday morning for less than 24 hours for the event.
“I am here to celebrate this momentous occasion for the Kraft family. Robert is very important to me personally, and also to the entire league. I know how important this is for him and to this country, so I wanted to be here in support of that.”
“My friendship with Robert was never strained. We both understand that we have jobs to do. My respect and admiration for him has never been stronger.”It also meant a lot for Kraft to have Goodell make the effort to attend.
"I am honored that Roger took time out of his impossibly busy schedule to be here in Jerusalem for a day for this special event. I hope to continue to build our wonderful sport of football together with Roger and my other partners, both in the NFL and internationally," said Kraft.
Mr. Kraft was also presented by Barkat with a Builder of Jerusalem award and plaque in recognition of his numerous contributions to the city, both financial combined with his heart and passion.
“To me, this is about roots and tradition,” said Kraft to The Jerusalem Post
. “To have my sons Jonathan, Danny and Joshua here with me today is crucial as it represents the continued commitment to Israel for our family, something I am sure will be maintained for many generations to come.”
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