Myra Hiatt Kraft
Myra Kraft, a Massachusetts giant has left us… Innumerable lives have been lifted thanks to her generosity, to her passion of caring, and to her undaunted determination to make things better for others.
—Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick, quoted in the Boston Globe, July 2011
Myra Kraft was an extraordinary woman who touched the lives of so many people in Boston, in Israel, in the FSU, and around the world. I knew Myra from afar for the first part of my life because of her family's deep and longtime connection to Brandeis University (I graduated in 1972). Jacob Hiatt was a giant among giants, a founder of Brandeis and a huge philanthropist. His daughter Myra carried on his legacy and became a philanthropist in her own right. She married Bob Kraft, the son of Harry Kraft, who was my teacher at Kehillath Israel in Brookline, where he led services for many years and was a favorite among the young people of the congregation.
While I admired Myra from afar it wasn't until I came to work in the Jewish community in 1990 that I got to know her on a personal level. From the very first time I met her at a Combined Jewish Philanthropies meeting, we instantly connected, two passionate women who loved Israel and wanted to change the world not just for Jews but for all people who were in need. Myra became one of my early supporters of the advocacy work at the Jewish Community Relations Council.
When I asked her to chair our Ethiopian Committee at a time when Ethiopians were coming to Israel in record numbers, needing to be absorbed so as not to become an underclass, she gladly agreed. She was an advocate par excellence. In fact, I will never forget when she chided the General Assembly in Chicago in 1997 and used her powerful leadership position to be an advocate. When I asked her if she would host a late-night meeting in her suite with the heads of UJC, JDC, JAFI along with the ministers of education and absorption from Israel, she said yes! So, there we were at 11 PM in Myra’s suite, where she chastised them all for not doing more to absorb Ethiopians into the full life of Israeli society.
I remember my first trip to Israel when Myra took me to Kiryat Yam and demanded to know why the women were still taking Hebrews lessons and were not working. On that same trip she took me to the home of Kafkhazi Jews who prepared a delicious feast for us. We were not terribly hungry but she did not want to insult the family, so she said that Robert would love the leftovers and packed them up to take home.
I traveled many times to Israel with Myra on very large and very small trips. There was nothing quite like a trip to Israel with Myra. She loved Israel with all her heart and with all her soul. On a very large CJP solidarity mission in the middle of the Second Intifada, she promised the merchants she would some business to their empty shops and asked them to stay open late. The UJC program was running very long; she told the chair the. Boston delegation wanted to leave. When he said “no,” she proceeded to stand up and walk out with all 250 of us following her. The merchants were thrilled; the UJC leadership was not.
On a later trip, still during the Intifada, we were the only two women on a 12-person trip. The streets of Jerusalem were empty. Again, she brought the group to shop for their loved ones, and in the process surprised me with a beautiful Ayala bar pin for my birthday. She not only thought of that but she also asked someone she knew to go out and buy "good" champagne for a toast. Little did she know that he would buy non-kosher champagne. Not only we were at a kosher home, but the Orthodox chief rabbi of Haifa was present. Not even that deterred Myra. She asked our hostess for some plastic cups, and we retired to the back bedroom for the toast!
The same scene was repeated a few years later on a trip to Dnep, also at the time of my birthday. She led the students of the day school in singing happy birthday to me in Russian, English and Hebrew! On that same trip, she asked the JCRC staff person in Dnep what he needed to make his choir more professional. When he said $10,000 would get him all new music equipment, she wrote a check for that amount and asked me to take care of getting the money to Dnep.
I have so many more stories I could tell but the last one is about the many missions I went on with Myra and other Jewish community leaders. The most memorable one was in February 2005 when Myra, Bob and I traveled with my dear friends Gloria and Ray Hammond, who were on their very first trip to Israel. Myra and Ray would literally "rif" around the steps of the Bible with Ray reading on his Blackberry the relevant passages and Myra pointing them out as we walked the steps of Jesus in Jerusalem and the Galillee. On that same trip, when they brought the Super Bowl trophy to the Kraft Stadium, Myra made sure the girls’ teams, which she had insisted on, had a chance to touch it and to experience the excitement.
I am grateful to Myra for so many things but most important of all for the way she treated every single person she met. She treated them all the same and cared about each one as if they were her own family. I will remember Myra as a giving, passionate, courageous fighter for social justice for all and a lover of Israel and the Jewish people. May her memory be for a blessing always and evermore.