By Sheila Gewolb
I was honoured to be part of a small group of Jewish community leaders, (there were only six of us), to accompany Chelsea FC on a trip to Boston to play New England Revolution last week. This was a joint initiative between Chelsea owner Roman Abramovich and his counterpart Robert Kraft, owner of New England Revolution, in response to the Tree of Life attack in Pittsburgh last year. The game raised an estimated $4 million for organizations fighting antisemitism and discrimination around the world.
From being fast-tracked through security at Gatwick to having our own line at immigration in Logan international airport we certainly travelled in style. We flew with Crystal Airlines on a converted Boeing 777-200 trying to look cool as if we were used to travelling this way. Champagne at 9am anyone? Apart from the extra legroom and constant food and drink service, there was a separate lounge area with chairs and tables, bar and huge TV screen. Apparently, the area can be converted into a casino for some private trips.
But of course I haven’t mentioned the most exciting part- rubbing shoulders with famous millionaire footballers. I popped to the loo, passing Eden Hazard on the way. We said ‘hi’ as if we bumped into each other on the street every day. I debated with myself about whether I should try and sneak some pics on my phone, and decided that I had three whole days – so plenty of other opportunities. And there’s always the journey home!
On arrival on Boston, we were whisked away in a VIP coach to our five-star hotel. There was a ‘getting to know you’ dinner which was hosted by Bruce Buck, Chelsea chairman, followed by a session with a local Chelsea supporters’ club and some of the players. I won an award for being the oldest person in the room! They wanted to find out who were the youngest and oldest, and I’ve never hidden my age. I received a beautiful silver-plated Chelsea medallion which will go in a frame!
The next day was one of the coldest Boston has had in May – eight degrees, and wet. However, it didn’t stop me from taking a hop-on-hop-off tour of the beautiful city and doing some retail therapy. The historical buildings which date back to the 1700s and commemorate the War of Independence, (I kept quiet about being British!), and the iconic green glass edifice of the Holocaust memorial, one glass tower for each million Jews murdered.
In the evening, we were hosted by Mr Kraft at his home, where he explained to the gathering of prestigious community leaders the purpose of the project. I met Harold Lessure, a survivor of the Pittsburgh shootings, and he was very gratified to learn of all the memorial events that had been held in the UK.
On the last day there was a lunch conversation on the state of antisemitism around the world. This was held at the famous John F Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum, and took the form of two panel discussions. The main speaker was Elan Carr, the US Special Envoy for Monitoring and Combatting antisemitism. Panel members included Isaac Herzog, Chairman of the Jewish Agency for Israel; Ambassador Danny Danon, Israel’s Permanent Representative to the United Nations; Sara Bloomfield, Director of the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum; and Malcolm Hoenlein, Executive Vice Chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organisations. A second panel looked at how sport can drive social change and help fight racism.
Our final event was the football match in the evening at the Gillette Stadium in Foxborough between Chelsea and New England Revolution, which we watched from a VIP hospitality box whilst having dinner. We had a police escort to get there on time, with motorcycle outriders stopping the traffic. We were all very excited to be given souvenir Chelsea scarves and signed shirts, and had problems carrying everything as our luggage had been checked in before we left the hotel. Chelsea won the game 3-0, but unfortunately one of their star players, Ruben Loftus-Cheek, injured his Achilles tendon and will be out of action for nine months. I feel bad about that as they had made the trip especially for the project, and have the Europa League Final to play next week.
The flight home was again amazing. We travelled straight after the game, going through security checks at the stadium in a curtained-off area. We flew from a local military airfield at midnight, with floodlights surrounding the plane. It was like being in a spy movie. Before we took off, everyone was wandering around the plane and the players were having their photos taken with us and filming video messages for our young relatives back in the UK. They were all very friendly and helpful and didn’t mind the late hour or our continued requests.
Back at Gatwick, (after a good five hours’ sleep in a comfortable bed), it all seemed a bit surreal. We said our goodbyes and now I can dine out on all the stories of this amazing experience.
Sheila Gewolb is Senior Vice President of the Board of Deputies
Photo: Sheila with Chelsea defender David Luiz