By Amiram Barkat, Haaretz Correspondent
Yad Vashem, the Holocaust Martyrs’ and Heroes’ Remembrance Authority, is set to receive the largest private donation in its history from an American billionaire who is considered the wealthiest Jew in the world. Sheldon Adelson and his wife, Miriam, will give $25 million to Yad Vashem in a ceremony on Friday that will be attended by Nobel Peace Laureate Elie Wiesel, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Education Minister Yuli Tamir.
The money will enable Yad Vashem to expand its international activities in the area of Holocaust education, will fund the uploading to the Internet of its main databases, and will help to pay for maintaining the New Holocaust History Museum.
Adelson, 73, was born to a poor immigrant family in Boston and earned his fortune developing huge hotel, convention and gambling properties in Las Vegas and, recently, in China. His wife, Dr. Miriam Adelson, a former Israeli, is a physician who specializes in treating chemical dependencies.
Last month, Forbes Magazine ranked Adelson as the fifth-richest man in the world, with an estimated fortune exceeding $20 billion. Forbes pointed out that Adelson’s fortune was increasing at the rate of $1 million per hour. In other words, the donation to Yad Vashem represents Adelson’s income for a single day.
Adelson is a long-standing contributor to Jewish and Israeli institutions as well as to medical research foundations. He is a member of the board of directors of the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, D.C.
The Adelsons said their current contribution to Yad Vashem was an expression of the importance to them of the memory of the Holocaust and the institution in Jerusalem as an essential component of the future of the Jewish people, of our children and of our grandchildren.
Officials at Yad Vashem pointed out that in contrast to most large benefactors, Adelson agreed to devote his contribution to upkeep, rather than a building or project bearing his name.
Yad Vashem’s annual budget is approximately NIS 80 million. Half is provided by the Ministry of Education, while half comes from private donors.
Adelson’s donation is a major achievement on the part of Yad Vashem Chairman Avner Shalev, who has cultivated the relationship with Adelson since becoming chairman a decade ago.
Shalev told Haaretz on Wednesday that Adelson believed in Yad Vashem’s ability to convince opinion makers of the importance of the existence of the State of Israel in light of the lessons of the Holocaust.