Bringing More Than Just Football

In these last few days, American Jews in Israel have been welcoming a little bit of our past lives back into our Aliyah living. Steve Leibowitz (founder of American Football Israel), Robert Kraft (owner of the New England Patriots), and Yonah Mishaan (American Football Israel Trustee) have brought to us “Touchdown in Israel II,” a sequel to their original event of bringing newly-inducted NFL Hall of Famers to the State of Israel. If they were not doing so much for our country already, between their philanthropy, investment and all-around support, this event has not just inspired American olim (immigrants to Israel) to come back to the sport of American football, but the opportunity to see that American football has a real future in Israel.

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Robert Kraft and the Hall of Famers in Israel

The event “Touchdown in Israel II” included eighteen NFL Hall of Fame inductees. Some of which included: Joe Montana, Jim Brown, Jerome Bettis, Roger Staubach, Marshall Faulk, Eric Dickerson, and “Mean” Joe Green. All of whom made the trip to commemorate Robert Kraft’s $6 million dollar gift towards his second sport complex in Jerusalem, only before Kraft had gotten involved the amateur football was being played at the local YMCA field. A stadium that will include two large fields for both American football and soccer (futbol), the complex aims to be completely finished for Israel’s 20th Maccabiah games. The event also featured hundreds of excited Israelis, both native and olim, wearing jerseys from almost all the 32 NFL teams.

Kraft’s involvement in Israel has not just stemmed from cooperation between Israel and the NFL. Robert Kraft has been an active supporter of the State of Israel for years, bringing NFL players to see the beauty of the land as well as visiting Yad Vashem (Israel’s Holocaust Memorial). The Kraft family were also very influential in bringing Haifa and Boston together as the sister cities as well as supporting absorption program for Ethiopian immigrants to Israel. Robert and his late wife Myra (Z”L) were inspirational defenders of Israel when the country became under attack from the international media when Israel defended herself from Hamas’ qassam rockets in Gaza. The couple even authored a condolence letter to the family of American-born Israeli soldier Max Steinberg (ZT”L), who had been slain in battle during “Operation Protective Edge.” Continuing his incredible record, Kraft had the New England Patriots hold a moment of silence for Ezra Schwartz (Z”L) on Monday Night Football, a Massachusetts native studying abroad in Israel, who’s future had been stolen by a Palestinian terrorist.

While bringing foreign sports to the United States has been hit or miss, bringing American sports to Israel has been a success story for the ages. In Israel, American football has shattered glass ceilings for American olim as well as for Israelis. The Israel Football League, sponsored by Leibowitz, Kraft and Yonah Mishaan, has flourished as an amateur league. With six teams, Israel has been able to contend on an international scale as well, competing in the International Federation of American Football.

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Kraft Stadium in Jerusalem, Israel

The work that the Kraft family has done in the State of Israel will be spoken about for generations. Between the Israel Football League and the NFL’s fandom in Israel, the connection between the United States and Israel on the common ground of American football has created friends for life and this will only continue to grow. Thank you to Robert Kraft, Steve Leibowitz, Yonah Mishaan, David Baker (President of the Pro Football Hall of Fame), and especially the Hall of Famers for bringing “Touchdown in Israel II,” we look forward to welcoming the NFL back to Israel.

About the Author
Since 1982, Jeff Seidel has introduced thousands of Jewish college students to their first Shabbat experience as well as offered free tours and classes through his Jewish Student Centers at Hebrew U in Jerusalem, Tel Aviv University, Ben-Gurion University in Beersheba, and IDC in Herzliya. He has lived in Jerusalem’s Old City for over thirty years and connected tens of thousands to the Land of Israel. He has also authored “The Jewish Traveler's Resource Guide,” which lists Shabbat placement programs around the world.
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