This morning when I got up, I heard NPR praising my old friend Myra Hiatt Kraft. I met Myra when we were in our early teens at a New England Federation of Temple Youth conference in Hartford, Connecticut. She could not have been nicer to me and made me feel welcomed, something I remembered through the years.
When, a few years ago, Carolyn Hessel from the Jewish Book Council called me and said that Myra Kraft wanted me to call her, I said that I didn’t know anyone named Myra Kraft. “She knows you,” she said. “She even calls you Joanie.” Of course, it was Myra Hiatt with whom I had lost touch.
We had great fun reconnecting. Myra was an extraordinary human being, humble and so eager to help the world. As chairman of a national conference for Federation in Chicago, she had me showing people how to braid challah in the main lobby of the Hyatt Regency. When it came to the grunt work, Myra was right there in the trenches, helping me and others set up the room, rather then asking others to do it. That is what she liked.
A few years ago we were in Israel together. When my daughter Daniela told Myra she loved the Arab hookah that she saw in the Old City, one showed up at our hotel a few hours later from Myra; so did a check later for $10,000 for New Voices, the Jewish magazine that Daniela edited that year. The next day Myra and I trekked to an Arab village outside Jerusalem where Myra bought the olive oil that she got every year, often sending me bottles to use in my own kitchen. But with Myra, it wasn’t just about olive oil. She was deeply connected to this family, as she was to so many Jewish families the world over.
After 9/11, the Krafts invited my husband, Allan, and me to their box at a Patriots game. Not one to really follow football—nor was Myra, though she dutifully converted to the game—I spent the game talking to Jimmy Andruzzi, a brother of one of the players, who is a New York City fireman and a cook. Myra joined the conversation and confided to me that when Robert decided to buy the Patriots, she only wanted one thing: for there to be 150 or so tickets every game for the Boys and Girls Club.
Brandeis and Federation were Myra’s great loves in Boston. When one of my cookbooks came out, she hosted an event for Federation at her home in Brookline, Massachusetts. So many people wanted to attend that they had me giving a cooking class in the kitchen with a video team from Gillette Stadium broadcasting it to the overflow in other rooms (leading to the hilarious juxtaposition of professional videographers milling about as Robert came in from exercising). Then Myra had us all sit around talking about the transferring of cooking traditions from one generation to another.
We would often talk on the phone, me at my home on the Vineyard and she in her home in Mashpee. Myra would talk about cooking her tsimmes and other dishes for her children and grandchildren, the most important people in her life besides her beloved Robert. For her, the Jewish tradition was paramount. We fantasized about her coming over on her fishing boat. I told her she could dock it right near me. We never did. I will miss her greatly.
Joan Nathan is Tablet Magazine’s food columnist and the author of 10 cookbooks including King Solomon’s Table: a Culinary Exploration of Jewish Cooking from Around the World.