Edited by: Fern Sidman
Sheldon Adelson, the multibillionaire casino mogul, conservative donor and exceptionally magnanimous Jewish philanthropist, has died at the age of 87.
Miriam Adelson, Sheldon’s wife, said in a statement that after a long illness, her husband died from “complications” of non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, a form of blood cancer, according to a report on the JNS.org web site.
“Sheldon was the love of my life. He was my partner in romance, philanthropy, political activism and enterprise. He was my soulmate,” she said. She added that “to me—as to his children, grandchildren, and his legions of friends and admirers, employees and colleagues—he is utterly irreplaceable.”
JNS reported that in many ways, Adelson was a prime example of an American success story. Born in 1933 in Boston, Sheldon Garry Adelson was the son of a taxi driver and knitting-shop owner. He grew up impoverished during the Great Depression in the city’s Dorchester neighborhood, making his first foray into business at the age of 12 selling newspapers.
After serving in the Korean War, he worked at a variety of jobs and made investments, beginning his rise in the late 1970s when he and four partners started the Las Vegas computer trade show Comdex, as was reported by JNS. It grew to become the nation’s top computer exhibition throughout the 1980s and 1990s. In 1989, he purchased the Sands Hotel and Casino, knocking it down to build the $1.5 billion Venetian Resort Hotel Casino in 1999. Eventually, he built and expanded into other gaming markets, including Singapore and Macau, where he built the $2.4 billion Venetian Macao, according to the JNS report.
A self-made billionaire, Forbes calculated his worth at nearly $35 billion in January 2021, making him one of the wealthiest men in the world.
AP reported that Adelson was married twice. He and his first wife, Sandra, were divorced in 1988. Three years later, he married Miriam Farbstein-Ochshorn, an Israeli-born doctor he met on a blind date and whom many believe helped deepen his involvement with Israel. Their honeymoon trip to Venice inspired Adelson to raze the historic Sands hotel-casino, once a favorite hangout for Frank Sinatra among others, and replaced it with a pair of massive complexes: The Venetian and The Palazzo, one of the city’s tallest buildings.
Aside from his casino business, Adelson is most known to Americans for his support of conservative causes and the Republican Party. He was a major supporter of Republicans—from President George W. Bush to presidential contenders such as Mitt Romney and Newt Gingrich, according to the JNS report. During the run-up to the 2016 presidential election, Adelson had one-on-one chats with a number of top GOP contenders, including Jeb Bush, Chris Christie, Scott Walker and John Kasich.
JNS reported that after Donald Trump became the Republican contender in 2016, he endorsed the New York real estate mogul and announced a $25 million donation to his presidential campaign, making him the biggest single donor in either party during that year’s election cycle.
Adelson also donated $5 million for Trump’s inauguration, and supported him through his media holdings, according to an AP report. In what was widely seen as a mark of the Adelsons’ influence with Trump, Miriam Adelson was given a Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2018.
AP reported that Adelson became one of the nation’s most influential GOP donors by setting records for individual contributions. In 2012, Politico called him “the dominant pioneer of the super PAC era.”
Adelson hosted the party’s top strategists and candidates at his modest office wedged among the casinos of the Las Vegas Strip. He helped ensure that uncritical support of Israel became a pillar of the GOP platform, never more visibly than when the Trump administration relocated the U.S. embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem in 2018 and the exit from the 2015 Iranian nuclear deal, according to the AP report.
JNS reported that in a statement, Trump said that Adelson “lived the true American dream. His ingenuity, genius and creativity earned him immense wealth, but his character and philanthropic generosity his great name.”
Vice President Mike Pence said on Tuesday that Adelson was “a leader and a great man, whose legacy will inspire generations for years to come. To his family, Pence added. “May G-d comfort you among the mourners of Zion and Jerusalem.”
“Sheldon battled his way out of a tough Boston neighborhood to build a successful enterprise that loyally employed tens of thousands – and entertained millions,” said former President George W Bush said in a prepared statement Tuesday. “He was an American patriot.”
“Our nation lost a remarkable American with the passing of my friend Sheldon Adelson,” said Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell on Tuesday.
“His life made him a fearless advocate for freedom and entrepreneurship and a source of counsel and support to a generation of conservatives, including me,” said House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif.
AP reported that in Nevada, Adelson’s influence was such that even the state’s most prominent Democrat, Senator Harry Reid, hesitated to take him on. In a 2014 interview with MSNBC, the then-Senate majority leader differentiated between Adelson and fellow GOP billionaire donors Charles and David Koch. Reid had sharply criticized the Koch brothers as callous and greedy, while saying that he respected Adelson because he was “not in it to make money,” a widely challenged opinion.
“In the nearly four decades that I’ve known him, Sheldon Adelson has been outspoken with causes important to him,” Reid said Tuesday. “His advocacy for the state of Israel and Jewish causes was without equal and made a difference in countless lives both at home and abroad.”
AP reported that a long-running feud with fellow casino tycoon Steve Wynn turned to friendship when Wynn joined Adelson’s effort to end online gambling. Critics said Adelson was trying to stifle competition. Adelson countered that there was no way to ensure children and teenagers wouldn’t gamble and said he was “not in favor of it exploiting the world’s most vulnerable people.”
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said of the passing of Adelson: “Sara and I are heartbroken by the passing of Sheldon Adelson. He was a wonderful friend to us personally and an incredible champion of the Jewish people, the Jewish state and the alliance between Israel and America.
Sheldon unabashedly loved America and cherished the freedom and opportunity it gave him. He worked tirelessly to ensure that very same freedom and opportunity would be given to others in America and around the world. The warmth of his heart, the clarity of his thinking and the decisiveness of his actions were truly exceptional.
With his wife Miri he contributed endlessly to strengthening the Jewish people and the Jewish state, funding breakthroughs in medicine and science and advancing higher education. He gave anonymously to help victims of terror and countless other people in need. Sara and I join Miri and the family in mourning a great friend, a great man, and a great Jewish patriot. We will never forget him. May his memory be blessed.”
While Adelson may be most known for his political involvement, his contributions to both the American Jewish community and Israel, especially in areas such as education and health care, could prove to be his most lasting legacy, according to the JNS report.
Through the Adelson Family Foundation, the Adelsons donated to a wide array of educational initiatives, founding the Dr. Miriam and Sheldon G. Adelson Educational Campus in Las Vegas, supporting the B’nai B’rith Young Organization (BBYO), American Friends of Ariel University and the Rashi School in the Boston area, as was reported by JNS.
The Adelsons also worked to strengthen Jewish identity, donating hundreds of millions to Taglit-Birthright Israel, which has sent hundreds of thousands of young Jews to Israel on free 10-day trips.
And as the owner of such publications as the Israel Hayom and the Las Vegas Review-Journal—and a contributor to JNS since its founding in 2011—Adelson had a significant impact on the news media.
According to a statement on the Republican Jewish Coalition web site, the Adelsons built a $65 million campus in Las Vegas for the Milton I. Schwartz Hebrew Academy and Adelson School, which serves students from preschool through high school.
They have been significant contributors to the Friends of the Israel Defense Forces and Yad Vashem. The Dr. Miriam and Sheldon G. Adelson Medical Research Foundation funds collaborative research programs to understand and cure cancers, fight immunologic diseases, and develop neural repair and rehabilitation therapies.
Dr. Miriam Adelson works with people struggling with chemical dependency and drug related addictions. The Adelsons built a clinic in Tel Aviv and Dr. Adelson has contributed enormously to addiction research and therapy. In the US, the Adelsons have hosted “Tribute to the Troops” weekends at their Venetian Resort for wounded American warriors — all-expense-paid vacations to thank the veterans for their service by providing entertainment and encouragement to them and to their caregivers.
In addition to making large donations to foundations and organizations, Mr. Adelson was a caring and generous mentor to friends and others in need. Among many quiet acts of kindness, he made his planes available to people needing medical care and helped small businesses and individuals fallen on hard times. When the Covid-19 pandemic closed down casinos, hotels, and entertainment venues, Mr. Adelson refused to furlough or lay off his employees. The Venetian Resort Las Vegas company continued to provide full pay and benefits to every employee from March 17 onward.
“That commitment helped keep thousands of Nevadans afloat during the most difficult of months, and Sheldon’s commitment will never be forgotten,” said Democratic Gov. Steve Sisolak, according to an AP report.
Just weeks ago, Adelson provided a private plane for Jonathan Pollard, a former U.S. intelligence analyst who spent 30 years in prison for spying for Israel, to move to Israel after his parole ended, as was reported by the AP.
According to an AP report, more recently, Adelson reportedly purchased the U.S. ambassador’s official residence near Tel Aviv for some $67 million in a maneuver that appeared be aimed at preventing the embassy from relocating back to Tel Aviv after Trump leaves office.
When asked at a gambling conference what he hoped his legacy would be, Adelson said it wasn’t his glitzy casinos or hotels but his impact in Israel, according to the AP report.
In a statement released to the media in the aftermath of Adelson’s passing, The Jewish Agency for Israel said that, “Adelson was a great supporter of the Jewish people and a tremendous advocate for the State of Israel. His boundless dedication and generosity will serve as his legacy for generations to come.”
Former Chairman of the Executive of The Jewish Agency and Founding Chairman of The Adelson Shlichut Institute, Natan Sharansky: “Sheldon has been a dear personal friend to me, as well as to the shlichut program. Without his belief in the work of shlichim and his vision of the long-term impact shlichim have in forging ties to Israel and in combating BDS and antisemitism, the growth of the shlichut program, thanks to his support over the past decade, wouldn’t be possible. I will miss him greatly.”
The Adelson Shlichut Institute provides training to over 2,000 Jewish Agency emissaries who serve in Jewish communities around the world to strengthen ties with Israel. They serve in local Jewish schools, youth groups, summer camps, universities, promoting the cause of Israel and fighting antisemitism.
In a statement sent to the media, the Israeli-American Council said that they “mourn the loss of our visionary, mentor, and true friend, Sheldon Adelson.”
They added that: “Sheldon Adelson was one of the world’s leading entrepreneurs and business leaders. Together with his wife, Dr. Miriam Adelson, he was the greatest Jewish-world philanthropist of our time. He touched countless lives with his generosity, devotion, and passion for Jewish causes and connecting and the younger generation to Israel.
With the foresight and support of the Adelsons, Sheldon’s vision is now in more than 100 communities and more than 90 campuses and has brought Israel to the hearts of hundreds of thousands of Israeli and Jewish Americans across the nation.
Sheldon’s unequivocal love of Israel and of the Jewish people will be a legacy that will always inspire us. We will greatly miss his wisdom, leadership, and dedication and we will strive to continue to fulfill his vision in support of Israel and of the Jewish people. May his memory be blessed.”
In addition to his loving and devoted wife, Adelson is survived by their five children, as well as grandchildren, as was reported by JNS.
Adelson’s funeral will take place in Israel. Plans for a memorial in Las Vegas will be held at a later date. (JNS.org, AP)