Alan Silverstein

The Patriots, Robert Kraft, Julian Edelman – Jewish Lessons

Certain Jewish Values can be derived from Super Bowl 52: Patriots Owner Robert Kraft, Super Bowl MVP Julian Edelman, and in the Patriots overall rise to success.

Robert Kraft

Robert Kraft was honored by Yeshiva University in 2016, when he referenced Zionism’s First Commandment, e.g., Herzl’s motto: “If you will it, it is not merely a dream.” 

Kraft’s message was to “think big, make it a wildly improbable dream that motivates you – one that wakes you up in the morning ready to attack your day, to persevere and persist until you accomplish it.”

He then proceeded to personalize his remarks. “My dream was to own the New England Patriots – but I did not have the money. Plus, most pro teams were never sold away from the families of the owners – it was wildly improbable.”

Kraft next cited a teaching from our Sages, which he translated to mean that, “the power of the human will/human spirit allows us to accomplish great things.” How did this apply to his sports success saga?

Kraft recalled that “in 1994 the Budweiser family announced its plan of selling the Patriots [failing] franchise to St Louis. [As a devoted fan] I was prepared to do whatever it took to keep the lowly Patriots in New England. In their 34-year history, they hosted only one playoff game, which they lost. The team was losing millions of dollars per year. Yet they insisted upon $174 million – the largest price ever demanded for a pro team.”

All seemed lost in terms of Kraft’s dream. However, he revealed that “something in me echoed Herzl and said to me, ‘if you will it, it is not merely a dream,’ e.g. say yes to that crazy monetary number. And I did so.”

Having made this momentous decision, Kraft sought Divine affirmation. “I went to shul. I gave thanks to God for allowing me to fulfill my dream. The next day, miraculously, 6,000 fans showed up to purchase season tickets in support of the team remaining in Boston. We were fiscally viable – dream fulfilled!”

Kraft also embodies the authentic nature of Tzedakah. The Hebrew word “give” is Natan. It is spelled the same way from front to back and from back to front. This happenstance implies that true Tzedakah means to receive [e.g. material success] and to give back to the community. Giving back to the community does not deplete us; instead it continues to inspire.

Over decades, Kraft has given over half a billion dollars to charity, and that capacity has been enhanced measurably by the popularity of his team. An aspect of Kraft’s “giving back” was to bring his passion for American football to the State of Israel. The philanthropy of Kraft and his late wife Myra z”l, have transformed Israel’s American Football into a thriving sport. The Kraft Family Stadium and the new Kraft Family Sports Campus in Jerusalem are home to about 2,000 football players in leagues that include the Kraft Family IFL and the Kraft Family IHFL.”

To help promote Israel’s American Football progress, in 2005, Kraft brought the Lombardi Trophy [for the Super Bowl victor] to Israel. It was the first time the trophy had ever left the USA. At a ceremony honoring the trophy, speaking in Hebrew in front of a capacity crowd at Kraft Family Stadium, Robert Kraft said, “Before building the field [Kraft Family Stadium] in Jerusalem, the Patriots had never won a Super Bowl. Since building the field we have … championships.” Gazing up to the heavens, Kraft remarked, “This could not have been by chance.”

Robert Kraft also embodies a commitment to Kiyyum Ha’Am, preserving the well-being of the Jewish people. Kraft recently was selected to receive the $1 million Genesis Prize, “the Jewish Nobel Prize.”

The Genesis Prize honors individuals who inspire the next generation of Jews by outstanding professional achievement along with commitment to Jewish values and the Jewish people. Kraft will receive the award in June in Jerusalem. He plans to give the money to initiatives combating anti-Semitism, other forms of prejudice, and efforts to de-legitimize the State of Israel. Following the recent tragedy in Pittsburgh, prior to the Patriots game against the Steelers, Kraft visited the Tree of Life Synagogue to help console the bereaved.

Julian Edelman

Pintele Yid means the spark of Jewish identity burns within us, sometimes at low ebb and other times surprisingly rekindled to new heights. Julian Edelman reminds us not to give up on the Pintele Yid within fellow Jews.  

Julian’s father is Jewish; not his Mom. He was not raised with a strong Jewish religious identity. In 2013 Edelman suddenly began to publicly identify himself as a member of the tribe during an interview on the NFL Network.

He subsequently has tweeted about Jewish holidays. Notably, in April 2015, he posted a Photo-shopped image of himself catching a piece of Matzah as a friendly Passover greeting.

He also has come to identify with the State of Israel. During a game against Denver in 2014, Edelman wore an Israel flag pin on his hat side by side with an American flag pin. It was a gift from Ron Prosor [Israeli ambassador to the USA].

Along with his sister, Edelman participated in a Birthright trip to Israel in 2015 with the Boston Federation. Being social media savvy, he made sure the experience was well documented on video, e.g. praying with tefillin, tossing a football with Israel’s national football team, and so forth. He told the press, “exploring my heritage is something I started in the past few years and seeing Israel for the first time, really getting a sense of history and culture, I now really understand why it’s so special.”

Like Kraft, Edelman stands up for Jews in need. Following the Pittsburgh shooting, in the Patriots game against the Pittsburgh Steelers, Edelman wore special insignias on his cleats to honor the victims: on one “Etz Chaim [Tree of Life synagogue], on the other “Jewish Star –  #Stronger than Hate.” When asked how it felt to be named Super Bowl MVP, Edelman responded: “MVP! It sounds crazy. L’Chaim!”

Throughout the Middle Ages, in Christendom churches displayed the twin statues of the Mother Ecclesia [the Christian Religion Triumphant] towering over Synagoga [the blinded, wandering , displaced Jewish religion].

Edelman role models the Jewish Value of: Not Allowing Others to Define You, to Defame You. To that end, Edelman authored a children’s book circulated by the PJ Library of the Grinspoon Foundation. It is “Flying High,” a semi-autobiographical story about a squirrel named Jules who is determined to play football despite his limited physical qualities and being belittled by the larger animals around him.

Edelman is only 5’ 10” and less than 200 pounds in an NFL of giants. He played college football at Kent State rather than Clemson or Ohio State. He was selected toward the end of the final round in the NFL draft, as was his Patriots “brother” Tom Brady. In the words of PJ Library founder, Harold Grinspoon, “He is an amazing guy. He’s a heimische guy. He’s so real. I love the Flying High story because it’s so true to who he is”

Overcoming his size, college and draft background, Edelman became the first Jewish MVP of the Super Bowl and a future Hall of Famer. He joins the ranks of Jewish football players acknowledged by the American Jewish Historical Society, e.g., Sid Luckman, Ron Mix], and Benny Friedman.

Boomer Esiason commented on Boston radio – “The guy is clutch in the biggest of games. I don’t know what else to tell you. He is, in my eyes, the definition of a Hall of Famer: Make the play when the play needs to be made in the biggest game to win the game”

Edelman has made a series of memorable catches in the playoffs biggest moments. His catch in the 2017 Super Bowl ranks among the most memorable in the history of championship games.  He has the second most post-season receptions of all time.  During this recent Super Bowl,  he had 10 catches for 141 yards. He had to be double teamed in the 2nd half, opening the door for Gronkowski’s game winning catch.

New England Patriots

The story of Joseph in the Torah models the image of a person who is in prison, disregarded, degraded yet rises to the pinnacle of Egyptian success. Despite the envy his achievement evokes, he remains committed to fulfill the best of his destiny

So, too, is this true in the New England Patriots saga, analogous in a certain manner to the trajectory of the State of Israel.

For years, the Patriots were a league laughing stock. They had losing records year after year, reaching low points [3 wins 11 losses] in 1972 and 1975. As a New York Post writer concluded – “you get the picture, [during Kraft’s days as a spectator] the Patriots stunk.”

Passionate supporters remained devoted to the cause. “[As a fan], Kraft’s passion for his team never wavered. As he sat and watched the losing he always thought about one day owning the team and changing the course of the franchise.”

Today, New England is a model of remarkable success. Has that success yielded popularity, friendship? No! The Patriots have been the recipient of envy. Kraft reflected that, “for us to get to this point in less than two decades where people now are rooting against us because we’ve won – That’s a high-class problem.”

This rise from low status to great success offers a parallel to Israel and the Jewish People in recent decades. In 1946, we were at our low point: Thousands of years without sovereignty, wandering the globe, homeless, weak, no capacity to defend ourselves, no real hopes of collectively contributing to the betterment of the World.  Yet in just 70 years, we can marvel at what has transpired. Unprecedented success by Israel in comparison to any of the other 160 nations established since WWII.

Israel has become a state with military prowess, capable of self-defense. Israel is now known to be a “Start-up Nation,” a hub of hi-tech and medical innovation. Israel’s Mashav Program brings to Third World nations the capacity to maximize crop yield and water use. Israel’s teams for Emergency Rescue arrive and save lives throughout the globe. Israel has become an environmental powerhouse, pioneering in solar energy and recycling.

As with the Patriots’ amazing success, has Israeli success yielded popularity, friendship? No! Instead, Israel, too, has been besieged by envy, resentment. Given Israel’s success after success, like the Patriots, people have come to root against the Jewish State.

But failure in order to curry favor ought never to become our goal. Let’s remember the experience of Joseph in the court of Pharaoh. Let’s keep in mind the urging of Robert Kraft in his reflections about The Patriots, “For us to get to this point in less than two decades where people now are rooting against us because we’ve won – I hope we keep it going for quite a while – I’m actually honored by it.”

Yes, Super Bowl #53 offers wholesome Values that resonate with our Tradition.

  1. Robert Kraft – Herzl’s motto of dream big! – Being a philanthropist, giving back to the community – Promote efforts to defend the Jewish People against our enemies.
  2. Julian Edelman – Don’t allow Others To Define You – Keep “flying high,” being the best that you can be – The Pintele Yid spark within us can be rekindled even at times we least expect
  3. The Patriots – Being envied due to great success is a “high-class problem” that ought never to discourage us in the pursuit of our goals.
About the Author
Rabbi Alan Silverstein, PhD, was religious leader of Congregation Agudath Israel in Caldwell, NJ, for more than four decades, retiring in 2021. He served as president of the Rabbinical Assembly, the international association of Conservative rabbis (1993-95); as president of the World Council of Conservative/Masorti Synagogues (2000-05); and as chair of the Foundation for Masorti Judaism in Israel (2010-14). He currently serves as president of Mercaz Olami, representing the world Masorti/Conservative movement. He is the author of “It All Begins with a Date: Jewish Concerns about Interdating,” “Preserving Jewishness in Your Family: After Intermarriage Has Occurred,” and “Alternatives to Assimilation: The Response of Reform Judaism to American Culture, 1840-1930.”
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