I’m Sorry, Sheldon

Sheldon Adelson’s levayah on Har Hazeisim. (Jonathan Sindel/Flash 90)

Sheldon Adelson was always a bit of a dubious figure in my eyes, an elderly casino magnate from Las Vegas who was trying to influence Netanyahu.

Two weeks ago, articles about his life story began to appear. As I read, I got this niggling feeling that perhaps I had been mistaken. At first I read a few moving tributes in Israel Hayom and told myself, you can’t deny it — looks like this Jew has done a few things in his life for Am Yisrael. But from there to comparing him to Montefiore or Rothschild? That was kind of routine posthumous hero-worship to me.

But then something remarkable happened. I read an article in a paper that did not belong to Adelson. The opposite extreme, in fact. And I realized that I had been mistaken about the man — hugely mistaken.

The one who opened my eyes was Rogel Alper. The title of his article, published in Haaretz the morning after Adelson’s demise, was: “Sheldon Adelson Has Died, But the Damage He Caused in His Life Continues.” Alper wrote: “With the death of Sheldon Adelson, it should be noted that the man managed to cause lots of damage in the world during his lifetime. It is not insensitive to claim this a few hours after his passing. Not at all. Although he was not an Israeli citizen, Adelson took advantage of his money to allow himself to have a tremendous influence on the lives of the residents of Israel and the West Bank. It’s hard to quantify his influence on the lives of every resident who lives in this area, but it might have been greater than any other person in the last 20 years. Adelson allowed himself to do this despite the fact that he was never authorized by the public to do so, and despite never being chosen for a public position. Although he did not live here, Adelson allowed himself to mold the political tendencies of millions of Israelis, through the Israel Hayom newspaper. … It’s not a newspaper, it is a propaganda mouthpiece whose entire purpose is the Netanyahu regime, the right and the chareidim. Through Israel Hayom, Adelson has besmirched the noble journalism profession, and contaminated it with foreign interests and harmed Israeli democracy.”

I stopped reading for a minute and again read the phrase the “noble journalism profession.” I laughed (aloud) and continued: “Adelson was very instrumental in helping Netanyahu come into power and stay there, and by doing that he also caused tremendous damage to Israeli democracy. He contributed to the settlement enterprise, and mainly to the Ariel University and, through Israel Hayom and Netanyahu, he did a lot to advance annexation and to create a binational apartheid state. Adelson allowed himself to seal the fate of the Palestinians in the West Bank as if they were flies. He was Trump’s biggest donor and was an influence on Trump’s overt effort simply to cause pain to the Palestinians, literally, in a sadistic way.”

Alper continued: “He had a lot of influence in Israel’s identity and its transformation to a nation of Jews instead of Israelis, even though it is a country he did not live in. He funded the Taglit program that believes that a Jew who was born and raised in Minneapolis, and plans to continue living there, has birthrights in Israel, while the fourth generation Palestinian in Eastern Yerushalayim has no rights here.”

Wow. What a tribute. How did I miss all these wonderful things that Adelson did in his lifetime? How had I not seen the whole picture?

So what did we have here? Investment in connecting Jewish youth in the Diaspora to Israel, and an investment in establishing the first university in Yehuda and Shomron, investment in strengthening the identity of the Jewish state and its connection with its ally America, and of course investment in advancing freedom of the press and of opinion in Israel.

How didn’t I understand all this myself? Why do I now have the crystal-eyed vision of the editors at Haaretz who know how to look at everything with the macro view?

I also need to apologize to Dr. Miriam Adelson. Only this week did I learn about the wonderful things she has been doing for decades, long before she even knew Sheldon. She began to learn microbiology and genetics at the Hebrew University, and from there went on to study medicine in the Tel Aviv University. Then she did a residency in internal medicine and directed an emergency room.

In time, she traveled to study at the Rockefeller University in Manhattan, at the age of 46, despite her impressive resume. That was when she met Sheldon. And here, indeed, his money came into the picture. Dr. Miriam and her husband established research and treatment centers for addiction in America and Israel. It would be interesting to know if, one day, they will develop there a treatment for those who are addicted to media poison.

As Haaretz well understood, there’s a certain line here, a certain agenda. What is it?

Adelson’s father, Arthur, emigrated from Lithuania to the United States. He was a taxi driver who did not have money to buy a ticket to visit Israel. “When I earned money and could afford to send my father to Israel, he said that he was too old and sick to travel. … I wanted to make sure that all the people on those Taglit waiting lists should not get to the point where my father got to, that they should not be sad when they are old that they have never visited Israel. If we can do it, why shouldn’t we? If we won’t, who will?

“When I see American Jews who are not connected to Israel,” Miriam said, “Jews who speak in a not nice way about Israel, who want to boycott Israel as part of BDS, I feel pain and wrenching in my heart for my brothers and sisters who do not know the facts. They are filled with anger and hatred. I hurt for them but they are Jews in my eyes. Maybe their children will understand more. … We are one family.”

The article finished with a wonderful anecdote. During corona, 87-year old Sheldon began to learn Hebrew. “I’m optimistic about his Hebrew studies,” Miriam said, and even shared the first word that he had learned to write in Hebrew: “Shabbos.”

On Erev Shabbos, two weeks after flying Jonathan and Esther Pollard to Israel, the private plane belonging to the Adelsons landed in Ben Gurion Airport again, this time with Sheldon’s aron. In the afternoon, he was buried in a small, corona-style levayah, on Har Hazeisim in Yerushalayim. But the story is not really over, because how did that moving tribute in Haaretz put it? “Sheldon Adelson has died, but the damage he has caused over his lifetime will continue.”

Amein.