From conflict to cooperation
Richard Behar, Contributor
His schedule was crammed that day. So when Massachusetts’ then-Governor Deval Patrick arrived at the annual fundraiser for the Combined Jewish Philanthropies — one of his state’s largest nonprofits — his plan was to make a few quick remarks and then duck out to his next appearance. His friend Robert Kraft, the billionaire owner of football’s exalted New England Patriots (one of many successful businesses within the Kraft Group), was tasked with introducing the governor, so they sat together in the front row.
It was October 2014, and what happened next captivated both men enough to join an Israeli-Palestinian venture that was taking root. “The first person to speak was this young Brandeis [University] student who just finished his service in Israel’s military, who talked about having spent almost all of his young life in conflict” recalls Patrick. “And he talked about how as a soldier what he had come to conclude was that the region needed ‘an infrastructure of hope.’
“Those were his words, and I was so blown away by that insight by a former soldier who understood the region. So when Robert [Kraft] got up to introduce me, he couldn’t pay any attention to me because he was also carried away. And I put my notes aside and said ‘I want to bet on whatever this young man is trying to do.’”
That young man was Ohad Elhelo, now 27, and he seems to have that effect on people. Moreover, the venture he’s built in a short time — a rigorous annual academic fellowship and business incubator in the Boston area for young Israelis and Palestinians called “Our Generation Speaks” — ought to be replicated in every American city. Former Governor Patrick chairs its advisory board, while Dan Kraft — Robert’s son and the CEO of the family's giant International Forest Products — also serves on that board. The Kraft family provided seed capital plus $1 million, and to date, the venture has raised nearly $4 million from a variety of American, Israeli and Palestinian investors.