In the interests of full disclosure, let me first offer that Sheldon Adelson and members of his family donated to my campaign for Congress when I ran last year (yes, I know I lost. But ‘Shmuley for President 2016’ is just three years away). Furthermore, as was widely reported, he and his wife Miriam donated to an independent Super Pac that backed my candidacy.
In addition, on June 4th in Times Square the organization of which I am Executive Director, This World: The Values Network, together with Rambam hospital in Haifa — one of the Middle East’s largest and most respected medical campuses — will be hosting an International Champions of Jewish Values Awards Gala. The honorees are some of the world’s most distinguished individuals, with Nobel Laureate (and my personal hero and mentor) Prof. Elie Wiesel being given the “Champion of Jewish Spirit” award, and my friend Dr. Mehmet Oz, the world’s most famous physician, being recognized as “Champion of Human life.” The award for “Champions of Jewish Identity” will go to Sheldon and Miriam Adelson who are being recognized for their vast contributions to Jewish identity worldwide.
Having offered that disclosure, I was happy to see that, as part of Adelson’s recent testimony in a breach of contract lawsuit filed by a former consultant, people were finally able to see the human being that lies behind the caricature.
On the witness stand, Adelson was humorous, engaging, relaxed, endearing, and utterly himself. “Even successful companies and wealthy people are entitled to justice,” he said, referring to his reasoning behind taking the stand in his own defense. His testimony included affable one-liners that could have easily been mistaken for a late night talk show’s opening monologue. “I came from the other side of the tracks,” he quipped. “In fact, I came from so far on the other side, I didn’t know the tracks existed.” And again, “I would have been a rags-to-riches story, except my parents couldn’t afford the rags … So I’m a less-than-rags-to-riches story.”
Those of us who know Sheldon have always been amazed at how he is depicted by some in the media as a mean-spirited, heartless mogul pulling political strings and throwing his weight in campaigns in order to elect lawmakers who favor lower taxes.
That fraudulent caricature overlooks the true essence of a man who is one of the world’s most generous benefactors of charitable causes and one of the foremost Jewish philanthropists of all time. The media neglect to mention that Adelson contributes hundreds of millions of dollars to programs such as Birthright Israel ($180 million), the Adelson Educational Campus ($80 million), Holocaust memory ($50 million to Yad Vashem), and Hebrew Senior Life in Boston ($20 million).
Adelson founded and supports the Adelson Drug Rehabilitation Clinics in Las Vegas and Tel Aviv, run by his wife, a highly respected authority in addiction medicine. Together, Sheldon and Miriam have committed hundreds of millions of dollars to approximately 200 scientists from nearly 70 medical research institutions via the Adelson Medical Foundation, with many of the scientists having lauded their financial support as having changed the ways in which medical research is conducted. And this is just a snapshot of his charitable giving.
Sheldon and Miriam regularly welcome America’s “Wounded Warriors” for “Salute our Troops” stays at the Venetian and Palazzo hotels in Las Vegas. The soldiers and their spouses are flown in and provided with weekend accommodations and VIP treatment in recognition of their service and sacrifice.
As a Rabbi I am particularly grateful to the Adelsons for the gargantuan sums they contribute toward programs that foster Jewish identity among the world’s Jewish youth, like Birthright Israel, and I write this column because, although people can strongly disagree with Sheldon’s politics, those of us working in the Jewish community should give thanks to those who love the Jewish people and dedicate their fortunes to seeing an ancient people survive and prosper.
I have twice led Birthright groups to Israel. The program is near miraculous. No people on earth offer its youth a free ten-day trip to an ancestral homeland so that they can soak in their ancient history and values. But without the Adelsons, Birthright would be offering the trip to just a fraction of the more than 350,000 who have already attended.
Yet, in spite of it all the world’s perception of Sheldon Adelson seems mostly shaped by his campaign contributions to the Republican Party. Even the 50,000 jobs he has created thorough Las Vegas Sands has not blighted the concerted assault on his name as he has been depicted as a GOP money man with little regard for the destitute or the poor. But if his agenda is, as some critics say, to hold on to his money, how does that explain the hundreds of millions he continually gives to charity? Could the explanation possibly be that he believes, with other Americans, that private philanthropy is more effective at solving social problems than government bureaucracies? Could it be that his promotion of conservative fiscal policies echoes, as a man who is self-made and whose father drove a cab, a belief in the dignity that comes from personal endeavor and self-reliance? Might it not be possible that he is one who believes that we all seek personal, financial, and spiritual redemption, although we prefer that it come first and foremost through our own devices? And even if people disagree with those conclusions and harbor a markedly different political philosophy, does he deserve to be hated for those principles?
Adelson is also condemned for his strong support of Israel and the more conservative policies of the Netanyahu government. But I too am an advocate of great caution in Israel’s relationship with its neighbors. As a Jew my Torah teaches me, as its first principle, that every Palestinian and Arab, like every Jew, is created in the divine image. We are all equally God’s children. But I share the conviction that Israel’s many attempts at peace and territorial concessions have led, not to an end of conflict, but tragically to dead Jews and a never-ending stream of rockets fired at Israeli hospitals and schools.
Let us also not forget that Adelson criticized many of the social values of the Republican Party (just as I did throughout my campaign) before it became fashionable to do so.
As someone involved in Jewish communal and public affairs, who has advised him to be more proactive in responding to media distortions (as a world-renowned Jewish philanthropist he owes it both to himself and the Jewish community), I have had the opportunity to get to know Adelson on a personal and professional level. Above all is his commitment to family. Here is a man who chose to have two sons at a later age when most men of his wealth are basking in their success on yachts and villas along the French Riviera.
But as a child of divorce perhaps what leads me to most respect Sheldon is the steadfast love and respect on display for his wife at all times. Indeed, in his testimony many of his witticisms were about how much he obeys his wife. When Judge Rob Bare, instructed Adelson to “do one thing at a time” and focus on the line of questioning while refraining from taking notes on the stand, his response was, “Your honor, I think you have something in common with my wife. She doesn’t want me to do two things at once.”
In a world where many men who make fortunes find it difficult to sustain a commitment to a woman, it’s inspiring to see a billionaire who believes his foremost achievement is his marriage to his wife.
Rabbi Shmuley Boteach