On Sunday, the New England Patriots and the New York Giants will battle it out in Super Bowl 46. People will get hit, touchdowns will be scored, and some lady named Madonna will sing a few songs at halftime.
But high above the spectacle on the field of Lucas Oil Stadium, you will find Patriots owner Robert Kraft and Giants owner Steve Tisch watching the game, two men linked by not just their Jewish faith, but also by their commitment to Jewish causes and the Jewish community, both in the United States and Israel.
This has been a very trying and emotional year for Kraft, who lost his wife and fellow philanthropist, Myra, shortly before the season began.
"The team saved me. I never understood what the word heartbroken meant,” Kraft said this past week. “It's hard for anyone to relate to it. My wife was 19 and I was 20 when she proposed to me. We had five kids right away. Then they left and we became best pals for 25 years. She was 98 pounds, read four books a week and was healthy. I thought she would outlive me for 30 years. This horrible cancer came and it's wrecked my life. Having this team has been a savior for me.”
The Krafts belonged to Temple Emanuel in Newton, Massachusetts, and have donated over $100 million dollars to various Jewish and non-Jewish causes during their lifetimes. Among their accomplishments are starting the Passport to Israel Program, creating the Israel Football League, and building Kraft Family Stadium in Jerusalem.
Myra Kraft served as the chair of Combined Jewish Philanthropies, and she was twice the co-chair of the organization’s annual fundraising campaign.
“[Myra Kraft’s] work with us was extraordinary and she meant the world to us, she still means the world to us,” CJP Senior Vice President of Development Zamira Korff told JointMedia News Service. “Her legacy is with us everyday. There are countless meetings and conversations during which we say ‘Can you imagine what Myra would have thought about this,’ or ‘What would Myra have done about this’? We feel that she’s still a partner, that’s how strong her presence was and that’s how strong her guidance was.”
She continued, “[Myra] was very proud of leading trips of both Jewish and non-Jewish members of our community to Israel, because she knew that it was equally as vital to both of them, and to participate in that together.”
Korff added that she has “never seen a better team” than the Kraft couple when it came to philanthropy.
Myra Kraft was also the national chair for the United Jewish Communities General Assembly and on the board of directors for Brandeis University and the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee.
Members of the Patriots team were so touched by Myra’s passing that they have dedicated this season to her, wearing a patch with her initials—“MHK”—on their uniforms.
In the hard fought win over the Baltimore Ravens in the AFC Championship Game, running back BenJarvus Green-Ellis scored a touchdown and pointed to the patch. After the game, he said he simply wanted to show “homage” to Myra.
Quarterback Tom Brady talked this week about what winning the Super Bowl would mean for the Kraft family.
“She is a woman who has been smiling down on us over the course of this season,” he said. “I think Mr. Kraft and his family have had a challenging six months. Mr. Kraft said the other day that he is a very spiritual person, and hopefully we can go out and get a win for him. I think it would make this year very special for him and special for his family."
Defensive lineman Vince Wilfork believes that even though Myra is no longer present with the team, “everybody thinks of every moment that she was around.”
“Myra Kraft meant more to this than probably any of us that are playing this game. She’s the foundation. Hopefully, we can get it done for her,” Wilfork said.
On the Giants’ side—the team is co-owned by the entire Tisch family—team chairman Steve Tisch’s cousin is Jim Tisch, former president of the UJA Federation of New York and former board chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations. Jim’s wife, Meryl, is also involved in the Jewish community as she chairs the board of the Metropolitan Council on Jewish Poverty.
Executive Vice president of the Conference of Presidents Malcolm Hoenlein told the Jewish Standard that all of the Tisch family are “identified [religiously] and active philanthropically."
“I think that the Tisch family is a model for the Jewish community and for others in terms of their broad range of commitments in the Jewish community, their involvement personally, not just financially,” Hoenlein said.
Robert Kraft and Steve Tisch have squared off in the Super Bowl once before back in 2008. Tisch’s Giants were victorious then, winning 17-14 and ruining the Patriots’ chance at a perfect 19-0 season in the process.
This time, though, the Patriots have a new secret weapon when it comes to Judaism. Wide receiver—and sometimes defensive back—Julian Edelman’s father is Jewish.
J-Connection: Robert Kraft is Jewish. The Chairman and Chief Executive Officer of The Kraft Group has owned the Patriots since 1994. Steve Tisch is also Jewish. He is the only person to ever win an Oscar and a Super Bowl ring.
.ORG-Connection: For nearly 100 years, the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee (JDC) has given global expression to the principle that all Jews are responsible for one another. Check them out on Jspace here.