By COLlive reporter
Photos by Moshe Zusman Photography
Over 100 students, Grad students and young professionals gathered at the Chabad Lubavitch Center in Washington, DC for a special conversation with American Jewish business magnate Sheldon Adelson, perhaps the foremost supporter of Jewish life today.
One of the richest people in the world, Adelson is famous for his phenomenal success in business ventures and involvement in political causes. The event, dubbed “Generations Connect,” and presented by American Friends of Lubavitch (Chabad), focused however on his personal odyssey and insights into Jewish life.
Students and Grads were there from The George Washington University, American University and Georgetown University in Washington, DC, and other universities.
Numerous Jewish staffers and interns from Congress and the Administration also participated in this significant opportunity. It is part of the programming American Friends of Lubavitch (Chabad) offers young Jewish adults in the nation’s capital which includes monthly Shabbos dinners, Torah classes, holiday events and an annual cruise.
The diverse group participating, and comprising numerous academic, professional and even political affiliations, listened intently as Sheldon Adelson related an incident which sparked his strong interest in Jewish identity.
Aside from having to fight back bullies while growing up in Dorchester, MA, Adelson recalled a lunch he once had with a non-Jewish friend who referred negatively to a mutual acquaintance as a Jew, even though the mutual friends was famously otherwise identified, and had a name which didn’t sound Jewish either. Turns out he had a Spanish sounding name due to his Jewish lineage from Spain.
That episode convinced Adelson there was no escaping your Jewish identity or ancestry. “And if I am going to be held responsible for being a Jew, then I want to be a Jew.” And that means defending Jewish interests wherever you can and supporting Jewish life which he does, including several Chabad institutions.
He then proceeded to underscore the importance of Jewish traditions, and shared his involvement in Birthright Israel to which he and his wife, Dr. Miriam Adelson, have contributed $250 million. He urged all present to go to Israel and support others to go there as well.
“Connection to Israel is the most important thing for a Jew,” Adelson said, and told the famous story of how his father couldn’t travel there, as he couldn’t afford it. When Adelson became successful and wanted to pay for his parents’ trip, they couldn’t go anymore. So, after his father passed away, he took a pair of his shoes to Israel and went to a park and walked in his father’s shoes.
He wasn’t satisfied walking on the pavement and instead veered off the walking path on to the ground itself. “I wanted those shoes to touch the soil of the holy land,” he said. And therefore, now he and his wife dedicate significant resources to ensure those who want to, can go to Israel, without the worry about having to pay for it.
Rabbi Levi Shemtov, Executive Vice President of American Friends of Lubavitch (Chabad) moderated the event, taking a dozen questions from the crowd and presenting them to the guest speaker.
One of those questions asked Adelson what he wanted his legacy to be. He said: “I want to be like a mason, who mixes the cement. I want my legacy to be that I mixed the cement of the Jewish people to create a connection between this generation and the next.”
He also jokingly shared that he wishes he had gotten an MBA (he famously dropped out of college when he was younger, something which apparently did not affect his success).
He urged the group to marry Jewish and explained that it helps avoid the fundamental conflict otherwise encountered, namely, how to raise the children in a marriage.
In his family, he said, it is clear. They are raised with Jewish traditions. “Make sure you have Shabbat dinner on Friday night,” the Las Vegas Sands Corp. Chairman and CEO advised, adding, “that will help strengthen the Jewish identity of your family.”
In his usual fashion, he then mingled and took photos with the crowd, dispensing even more informal advice to many of our future Jewish leaders.