On Thursday, New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft, after he was awarded an honorary doctorate from Yeshiva University, gave a commencement speech. Call me a homer—I am both a proud Jew and a fervid Pats fan—but the speech is both heartfelt and inspiring without ever feeling trite. It’s required viewing if only because Kraft, a dedicated supporter of Israel and other Jewish causes, shared some personal anecdotes about his father, his childhood, and about his purchase of the Patriots that rings true.
Kraft got chocked up when he spoke about his father, the former lay leader at Congregation Kehillath Israel in Brookline, Massachusetts, with whom he’d study Torah and the Pirkei Avot. “I’ve spent the rest of my life perpetuating his legacy,” said Kraft, who peppered his entire speech with Hebrew.
Kraft, who told the soon-to-be graduates to “dream big,” shared his own dream as a young man: owning the New England Patriots. In fact, Kraft said that he paid 50 million more dollars than he was prepared to because his gut had told him to pull the trigger. (At the time (1994), the Patriots were a horrible team, winning, according to Kraft, an average of 3.5 games over the four previous years. Now, they’re a dynasty.) Kraft said he agreed on the purchase on a Friday afternoon. The next he went to shul. That day, a massive snowstorm swept into town, yet 6,000 Patriots fans lined up to buy season tickets. That, he said, propelled the franchise’s success.
He also spoke about his going to Israel on his honeymoon with his wife, Myra, who passed away in 2011. The year was 1963 and Israel was just 15 years old. He wasn’t able to go to the Kotel because it was under Jordanian control at the time. But he returned to the Jewish state in 1967, after the Six-Day War, and visited the wall. He touched it. He kissed it. He prayed at it. He thanked God.
He also mentioned Ezra Schwartz, the young man who was tragically killed while studying in Israel last November. Schwartz, who is from Sharon, Massachusetts—right down the road from Foxboro, where the Patriots play—was memorialized with a moment of silence soon after his death during a home game.
There are plenty more nuggets of wisdom and anecdotes in his speech, such as the fact that Kraft says he liked to buy everybody in line coffee when he buys Dunkin’ Donuts), a small act of tikkun olam. “A life of Jewish values should create a mensch,” he said.
Jonathan Zalman is a writer and teacher based in Brooklyn.