Opinion: The [16-0] Patriots are 'Israel's team'

The Kraft family is deeply invested in developing football in Israel.

kraft 224.88 ap (photo credit: AP)
kraft 224.88 ap
(photo credit: AP)
My first childhood memory was from 1958. I was seven years old, sitting with my father at our kitchen table in Laurelton, New York, listening to the NFL championship between the New York Giants and the Baltimore Colts on the radio. The Giants lost in overtime, and it was painful. From that moment, I became a lifetime Giants fan. Even after making aliya in 1974, I remained a loyal Giants fan. There was no cable TV then, and for many years I would have friends sent over video tapes of Giants games and send them to Israel, so that I could see the game. Thanks to the generosity of close friend and Big Blue Travel owner Barry Liben, I was flown to New York about once year, for a 25 year period, to see at least one Giants game every season. Some of the games were "road games" where Big Blue arranged for tickets for hundreds of NY fans who painted their faces blue and rooted on the team even when the Giants were on the road. Its safe to say that I was the only Israeli immigrant to enjoy such a perk. My bond to the Giants remained intact, even though I live in Jerusalem. In recent years, the New England Patriots have also come into my life. Thanks to the unending generosity of Patriots owner Robert Kraft and his wife Myra, American Football has turned into one of the fastest growing sports in the country. Kraft Family Stadium in Jerusalem is home to over 1,000 football players in four leagues. Youth programs are now operating all over the country and even a new tackle football league has gotten off the ground. Kraft Family Stadium was constructed in 1999. The Krafts gave another donation in 2005 to re-dedicate the facility with state of the art Fieldturf. Robert Kraft spoke at the re-dedication in Hebrew, and told the audience that "before building the field in Jerusalem, the Patriots had never won a Super Bowl. Since building the field we have three championships." He then looked toward the heavens and said, "This could not have been by chance." Later in the speech Kraft spoke of his father, and how he would be proud of the football accomplishment, but would be most proud that the Kraft family owns Carmel Containers in Caesaria, employing some 600 Israeli workers. This past Israeli Independence Day, the Krafts and the Combined Jewish Philanthropies of Greater Boston brought the Israeli men and women's teams flag football teams to the Patriots home at Gillette Stadium in Foxborough, Massachusetts. Before winning our respective games against US teams, our players toured the facility, visiting the players' locker rooms and the Patriots' trophy room, which houses the three Lombardi trophies for Super Bowl championships. The players were somewhat overwhelmed. The Foxborough experience gave us a memorable attachment to the Patriots. So herein lies the dilemma. What of previous loyalties? They earned the right to be this countries team. A few years ago Kraft brought the Lombardi Trophy to Israel and held it up to a large crowd, the Israeli football community that was present at Kraft Family Stadium. That was the first time the coveted trophy had ever left North America. A year later, the Krafts thrilled the local footballers by bringing Superbowl MVP quarterback Tom Brady to the country. The Kraft family is deeply invested developing football in Israel. Thanks to their friendship and commitment, there are thousands of Patriot fans in Israel. The Patriots have earned the right to be known as Israel‚s team in the NFL. Steve Leibowitz is President of American Football in Israel and Director of Kraft Family Stadium. He is also editor of IBA News.