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Visit to Israel had profound impact on quarterback Tom Brady

With Israel open again for tourism 2022 will likely see a lot of athletes, actors and others making a spiritual journey.  Retired quarterback Tom Brady knows firsthand about the Holy Land and speaks about his connection to Judaism and the nation of Israel.

Robert Kraft, owner of the New England Patriots, spoke with “The Times of Israel” about the time he and Brady visited Israel. In 2006, the Krafts brought Brady to the country for his first visit, along with CBS anchorwoman Sara Underwood and Joseph Campanelli, then-CEO of Sovereign Bank.

“He had never been before,” Kraft said. “I had taken a couple of his teammates, Richard Seymour and Benjamin Watson, on a trip a few years earlier and I know that they had shared their unbelievable experiences with others. Tom was eager and very excited to get to go.

“We visited a number of the traditional Christian sites, and I watched Tom be baptized in the Jordan River. What I loved about Tom was his appreciation for the culture and his interest in trying to understand Israeli politics. We had some deep, thought-provoking and meaningful conversations.”

Participants on the trip said Brady, 44, was visibly moved by what he saw and experienced. Barry Shrage, a close friend of the Kraft family and past president of Boston’s Combined Jewish Philanthropies, remembers a rabbi who attended the group’s Friday night dinner.

“Everyone started to dance, and Tom soon joined in,” he said. “To see Tom Brady dancing in a circle with us, singing with us — that was really special. I think he was enormously moved.”

READ: Demi Lovato gets baptized in Jordan River

The Krafts took Brady to an infantry base as well. Boston-born battalion soldier Avi Sandler was in basic training in the Jordan Valley. He had just completed a week of field exercises and a long march back to his base. He was told to put on his beret and report to the deputy company commander’s office.

“I was nervous, as at that point one only went to his office if he was in trouble,” Sandler said. “As I entered the office and saluted, I saw two other soldiers with American backgrounds already seated. We were told that a group of important Americans will be visiting the base tomorrow and that we were chosen to attend as representatives.”

Fellow soldier Label Garelik was sitting in his room when his sergeant came in and told him some Americans were visiting who wanted to speak to soldiers who had moved to Israel from the United States. The next morning, the soldiers were bused to the firing range, where a weapons demonstration was prepared for the visitors.

“Quietly, on the side, my friend says, ‘Avi, isn’t that Tom Brady?’” Sandler recalled. “Other than Mr. Kraft, we had no clue who was visiting. I responded, ‘It looks like him, but what would he be doing here? We quickly turned to Brady and asked, ‘Are you Tom Brady?’’ Yes,’ he responded. Our mouths dropped.”

One soldier asked Brady if he wanted to play football with them. “I don’t mix business and pleasure,” Brady joked.

The soldiers demonstrated various weapons lined up at the range. The Patriots quarterback even took target practice at the base’s shooting range. “I was worried about the recoil,” Shrage recalled. “We certainly didn’t need Brady hurting his throwing shoulder shooting a rifle.”

Other New Englanders were given the opportunity to meet Brady at the Israel Museum at a Saturday night dinner.

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Brady and Kraft at the Western Wall, Judaism’s most holy site.

“He said he really enjoyed humus,” remembered Israeli lawyer Hillel Katchen, who was a law student at the time. “He seemed really down to earth. He said he enjoyed Tel Aviv more because nobody recognized him there.”

Kraft said the visit strengthened the connection between the two men.

“I have always treated Tom like an extension of my immediate family, and the trip to Israel just created a stronger bond,” he said. “As you know, there is no place in the world quite like Israel, and sharing that experience with someone for the first time is why I love sponsoring so many mission trips to Israel.”

It’s not clear whether it was the trip that inspired Brady, but he keeps a large menorah in his home. “We’re not Jewish,” he told “The New York Times” in 2015. “But I think we’re into everything.”

Brady is said to be on a spiritual journey and has been honest about it. “I don’t know what I believe. I think there’s a belief system, I’m just not sure what it is,” he said.

Brady probably isn’t the only one in his family with a menorah at home. His sister Julie married Jewish former Boston Red Sox star Kevin Youkilis in 2012. He also has attended other Jewish celebrations with the Krafts over the years, which the Patriots CEO called “private moments with Tom and my family.”

“As a football fan, it is sad to see the greatest of all time announce his retirement,” Kraft said. “It was a privilege to watch him play for the past two decades. I am grateful for all he did for the New England Patriots and congratulate him on such a remarkable career. The NFL won’t be the same without him.”

–Alan Goforth | Metro Voice