By Rabbi Yair Hoffman
What do Yeshivas Ponovezh, Birthright Israel, and the Republican Party have in common?
They were all of interest to Sheldon Adelson, z’l.
The Ponovezh Yeshiva was established in Eretz Yisrael in 1944 and now has over 3,000 students. Two years ago, the Adelsons visited the yeshiva, toured the beis midrash, and spoke to students about the masechta and sugyas they were learning. Adelson spoke with two American boys who were studying in the yeshiva. Rav Kahaneman spoke to the Adelsons about what the Talmud is about, and they showed a pride in it. They were amazed at how it is being studied for its wisdom in the business world. When his wife, Miriam, discovered that Rav Kahaneman was a Cohen she asked him for a berachah, which he gave her.
Rav Gershon Edelstein’s gabbai told me that Mr. Adelson had shed tears and promised to help support the yeshiva. Mr. Adelson said at the time, “The secret of the success of Jews around the world is only because of learning Gemara and because of the yeshivos.” He expressed a desire to visit again, but it did not occur due to his illness.
For the past 13 years, Mr. Adelson and his wife, Miriam, have donated a total of $410 million to Birthright Israel, which is close to one-fifth of its total budget. “He was always sharing his story about his father who never made it to Israel, and he was determined to make sure that other Jewish young adults never miss the opportunity of actually coming and visiting Israel,” Izzy Tapoohi, the former head of Birthright Israel, said. “And when he heard that there was a waiting list for the program and we have a situation where we have twice as many applicants as we have spots, he obviously increased his support.”
“His concern was not for the politics whatsoever,” Tapoohi added. “I never heard him say, “Let’s make sure we get these Jewish young adults to Israel so that they become more right-wing.’ He wanted them to come to Israel to learn and understand what Israel is all about.”
The Adelsons donated significant funds to the Republican Party, including to President Trump’s campaign. Indeed, he was the president’s largest donor in 2016. Mr. Adelson was one of the main advocates pushing Mr. Trump to move the embassy to Jerusalem, which the president did.
Sheldon Adelson was a businessman, investor, and philanthropist who displayed remarkable empathy for Klal Yisrael and Eretz Yisrael. He was the founder, chairman and chief executive officer of Las Vegas Sands Corporation and the Israeli daily newspaper Israel Hayom.
In the September 2020 issue, Adelson was listed by Forbes as having a fortune of $33.5 billion, making him the 28th-richest person in the world and 17th in the Forbes 400.
Adelson was born on August 4, 1933, and grew up in the Dorchester neighborhood of Boston, the son of Sarah (née Tonkin) and Arthur Adelson, a taxi driver. His father’s family was from Belarus and Lita. The family was quite poor. He started selling newspapers at age 12 and launched businesses ever since. He served in the U.S. Army in the Korean War. After his time in the army, he established a business selling toiletry kits, then started another business named De-Ice-It, which marketed a chemical spray that cleared ice from windshields.
Mr. Adelson was strongly against Iran developing nukes. In a panel discussion at Yeshiva University in October 2013, Adelson said that the United States must get tougher on the issue of Iran’s suspected nuclear weapons program. He also felt that marijuana is a gateway drug and fought hard to keep it illegal.
In 2001, Adelson was diagnosed with peripheral neuropathy, which restricted his ability to stand and walk. When he toured Ponovezh, he did so in a mechanical scooter on account of his neuropathy.
On January 11, 2021, Mr. Adelson passed away at his home in Malibu, California, at age 87. n