Sheldon Adelson took over a failing Las Vegas hotel and built his investment into one of the world’s biggest international empires of casinos and resort properties. He was also among the top contributors to Israel and to numerous Jewish causes.
Adelson, who died Jan. 11 at the age of 87, was estimated to have a personal worth of $33 billion, and he regularly used that vast fortune to support the causes he believed in.
In a statement announcing his death, his wife Miriam, an Israeli doctor and close associate in many of her husband’s most significant projects, paid tribute to her husband’s dedication.
“He was the proudest of Jews, who saw in the State of Israel not only the realization of an historical promise to a unique and deserving people, but also a gift from the Almighty to all of humanity,”
Another big Jewish philanthropist, Bernie Marcus, co-founder of The Home Depot and chairman of The Marcus Foundation, shared his thoughts on Adelson’s passing. “Sheldon was a great philanthropist. The Jewish community will surely lament the loss of one of the largest donors to Jewish causes of our time.”
Retired Atlanta hotel executive Mike Leven was president of Adelson’s company, Las Vegas Sands Corporation for five years, beginning in 2009, and was instrumental in building the corporation into a highly profitable financial powerhouse. He recounted that when Adelson first visited Israel in the 1980s, he wore his father’s old shoes to set foot on the soil of the Jewish state, something the man, a Boston taxi driver, was not able to accomplish in his own lifetime. With Adelson’s passing “Israel has lost its best friend,” Leven said.
“He was a phenomenal philanthropist and probably the largest supporter of the state of Israel individually. And his support for medical cancer research was renowned. But also what was never seen is what he did individually for people and how he helped people quietly and without public knowledge along the way. And I saw that with my own eyes. Some of the times that that happened amazed me.”
Although Adelson went to college only briefly, Leven helped to make him a brother of Alpha Epsilon Pi, and to present him with the fraternity’s Distinguished Service Award.
Jay Feldman, managing director of the Alpha Epsilon Pi Foundation, remembers Adelson not only the organization’s biggest individual donor, but as someone who was never too busy to mentor the fraternity members when he met with them in this country and in Israel.
“What I’ve always admired about him was his passion for wanting to see young Jewish adults be proud young Jews, proud of their Jewish history, proud of their heritage, and also to build strong relationships, with their young Jewish peers who are in Israel as well.”
Leven, who has his own admirable record of support for Jewish causes such as AEPi and the Hillel campus movement in Georgia, estimated that Adelson contributed over half a billion dollars to the Birthright Israel Foundation.
That program reports having underwritten 750,000 free trips to Israel by Jewish young people from 68 countries. It is generally credited with having a major impact on a stronger sense of Jewish identity as well as a greater interest by young Jews in the future of Israel.
Adelson was also a major contributor to Yad Vashem, the Holocaust memorial museum in Israel, and started that nation’s largest circulation newspaper, Israel Hayom, in part to support Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
Although he grew up as a liberal Democrat in the working-class Jewish community of Dorchester in Boston, he attended his first political convention when the Democrats met in Atlanta in 1988. He was said to have become a conservative Republican during a bruising fight over union representation at his Las Vegas hotel.
Adelson was a prominent member of the Republican Jewish Coalition and was among the biggest individual contributors to the Republican Party during the two presidential campaigns of Donald Trump.
“Our nation lost a remarkable American with the passing of my friend Sheldon Adelson,” Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell said. “He climbed from sleeping on tenement floors during the Great Depression as a young boy to literally towering over Las Vegas and beyond.”
Trump, according to The Forward newspaper, received $215 million from Adelson during the 2020 election and named Adelson and his wife co-chairs of Jewish Voices For Trump. He added his words of praise.
“Sheldon was true to his family, his country, and all those that knew him. The world has lost a great man.”
Adelson’s deep political commitments, Leven said, were all part of the extraordinary belief that Adelson had in his own opinions. It is, in part, what drove him to be the great success in life that he was.
“He believed incredibly in himself and his own judgment and his own purposes, even sometimes when he was wrong. But, you know, no one’s right all the time. But he believed he was right and that’s what drove him and drove his energy.”
- Bob Bahr
- Sheldon Adelson
- Donald Trump
- Jewish Voices For Trump
- Republican Jewish Coalition
- Israel Hayom
- Benjamin Netanyahu
- Alpha Epsilon Pi
- Mike Leven
- Las Vegas Sands Corporation
- The Marcus Foundation
- Bernie Marcus