Latest update: January 12th, 2012
In September 2011, Forbes magazine ranked Sheldon Adelson the 8th richest man in America and 16th in the world. He is chairman and CEO of the Las Vegas Sands Corp. with integrated resorts in Asia, Pennsylvania, and Las Vegas where his holdings include The Venetian, The Palazzo and the Sands Expo and Convention Center.
He has contributed hundreds of millions of dollars to Jewish and Israeli concerns and is the single largest donor to the Birthright Israel program. He and his wife, Miriam, recently presented Jerusalem’s Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial with $25 million – the second $25 million donation made by the couple to Yad Vashem in five years. Their total contribution is the largest ever received by Yad Vashem from a private donor.
The Jewish Press: Let’s start at the beginning. Where were you raised?
Adelson: As far as I was concerned, we lived in a Jewish ghetto in Boston. I used to call it the slums. The best you could say about it was that it was a dense, impoverished area. My parents had few material things and the moneylender came to the house so often that I thought he was an uncle, like he was part of the family, because he would show up at every family affair.
What was it like growing up so impoverished?
For several years the whole family – my parents, two brothers, and my sister – lived in one bedroom. The living room was a storefront where my mother ran a knitting store. Besides that, there was a little sitting area, a bathroom, and a kitchen. But there was always this blue and white pushke on the kitchen table. My dad, being a cab driver, always came home with a lot of change in his pocket, so he would take all the change in his pocket and put it into the pushke.
One day I asked him what he was doing and he said, “I’m filling the box.” I asked him what happens when it gets full and he said, “I take it down to the place,” which turned out to be the Federation office. “They empty it and give it to poor people, then give it back to me and I fill it up again.”
I said, “But Daddy, aren’t we poor?” He said, “Yeah, we’re poor, but there’s always somebody who’s more poor and you have to help take care of them.” I didn’t want to believe that, because nobody ever helped me. I had to do everything on my own. He made me promise that I would put money in a pushke every day. I don’t quite do it like that, but I think he’ll forgive me because I do it “in bulk.”
When did you start working?
When I was about nine. I had to work for three years to save $35 to buy a bicycle. I repaired bicycles, shoveled snow, did odd jobs. But then, my first business was at the age of twelve. I bought and sold two newspaper “corners.” The “corner” was like a franchise to be able to sell the local newspapers. It was a right, and I had to buy that right from somebody.
As a boy, were you determined to become rich?
No, I never thought about becoming wealthy. It never crossed my mind. What really motivated me was to try to accomplish something. Achievement is the motivation of entrepreneurs.
Did being Jewish always play an important role in your life?
Oh, yes. My father wasn’t very religious, but he told me his father was – my grandfather, whom I never met. My parents sent their children to Hebrew school, and on the high holidays my father would insist that we go with him to shul.
For my father, when Israel was founded it was a wonderful day. He always wanted to go to Israel, but he could never afford it. When I made enough money so that I could afford to give my parents whatever they wanted, I wanted them to go to Israel, but by then my father was too old and too sick to go.
Were they able to see you go to Israel?
No. My parents died in 1985, may they rest in peace. When my siblings and I went down to clean out their apartment, I saw a pair of his shoes. My father and I had exactly the same odd shoe size. When I used to visit my parents in North Miami Beach, we would go to the Florsheim store in Bal Harbour. It was the only store in the country where I could find more than one pair of shoes in my size. I would try to encourage my father to get shoes, but he’d always say “No, but those shoes that you just bought, take good care of my shoes.” Then in the summer, when he came to spend time with my family and me, he would take the shoes from me because I couldn’t get him to spend any money. My mother, too, was the same way. So when they passed away and we went down to clean out their apartment, I saw those shoes that he had recently taken. I took them back with me.
Sometime later when I was packing to go to Israel, I went into my closet and saw those shoes, and decided to take them with me. I wanted to walk in Israel with my father’s shoes on because my father had always wanted to go, but never made it. When we got there, my Israeli wife Miriam took me to a park where I could walk on the actual earth, the land of Israel, in the shoes of my father.
Speaking of Israel, what are your thoughts on the so-called two-state solution?
There won’t be a two-state solution; there won’t be a one-state solution. The Palestinians want a “no state solution” for the Jews. They don’t want Jews at all. So all of this balagan about the settlements – it’s not about the settlements. It’s something to delay having to sit down and negotiate over a table that will have to lead to a conclusion that they will never agree to. They will have to agree that this is the end of the conflict and they will have to surrender what they call their “right of return to Israel proper.” They will never do either of those things. They don’t want the Jews or any other religion to be alive, so how are they going to get to the point of peace?
There isn’t a Palestinian alive who wasn’t raised on a curriculum of hatred and hostility toward the Jews. So how can you talk about giving up land? They publicly acknowledge that they have a multi-phased program. They’ll do it in steps: They’ll take the West Bank, then they’ll take a piece of the Galilee, and piece by piece they’ll want the rest of the land of Israel. There’s no chance for peace, and the settlements are just a red herring issue.
Do you think the UN statehood business is just going to fall by the wayside?
No. The UN business is how they’re circumventing the need to sit down and negotiate…. All of this is an excuse to delay coming to the table and negotiating.
Do you think Israel should be a secular, pluralistic country or remain a Jewish state for Jews?
It should be a Jewish state for the Jewish people. It should be the homeland of the Jewish people. Without question.
Why do you think the majority of American Jews have been generally supportive of President Obama?
The Jews are always for the underdog. They don’t realize that Obama is against the interests of the Jewish people and Israel. Politics is not always a transparent discipline, but Obama, like Bill Clinton, believes the objective is to get a written agreement whether or not it’s in the interest of Israel and the Jews. Just get an agreement signed. For Obama, this is just a political issue; for the Israelis, it is its very survival and the survival of the Jewish people. It’s not making or losing political points.
Clearly some of Obama’s actions are mixed, but in the meantime it’s the direction and the trend that really counts, and not just symbolism about Israel.
You established the daily Israeli newspaper Israel Hayom. Why?
It started from my father’s belief that the Israeli people are entitled to get a fair and balanced view of the news. And outside of Israel Hayom, they don’t. We are trying to give a fair and balanced, truthful view of the news.
Do you think it’s had the effect you were after?
Yes. In just three years we became number one – according to the rating service there, we have the largest daily readership and we will continue to grow.
Besides continuing to grow and expand your empire, what do you still want to accomplish in life given the power and influence you wield?
I want to: (1) accelerate my efforts in the Jewish community and pro-Israel matters; (2) expand my backing in the collaborative approach to conducting medical research through the Adelson Medical Research Foundation; and (3) support my political views, in my case, right-of-center Republican views. Not necessarily in that order.
Marcia Friedman is a freelance writer for the The Jewish Press. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.Marcia Friedman
About the Author: Marcia Friedman, a freelance writer, has contributed to The Jewish Press for more than 20 years. She can be reached at email@example.com.
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