THE PUBLICATION of Forbes magazine's list of the world's billionaires and America's richest people always arouses great interest in Israel: first and foremost, because there is curiosity as to how many Israelis made the list, and secondly, because Israeli financial circles and charity organizations are keen monitors of the fortunes of members of the tribe who appear in both lists, sometimes invest in Israeli companies and are often generous philanthropists who give to causes in Israel as well as in the US.
William Davidson, who died two days after the publication of the current list, was ranked No. 318, with a personal fortune of $2.1 billion. Over the years he donated tens of millions of dollars to a variety of causes in Israel and also invested heavily in Phoenicia Glass.
Despite a very tough year in which he lost $22b., casino king Sheldon Adelson, who saw the stock in his Las Vegas casino operations plunge by more than 95 percent over a 12-month period, is still among the world's top 200 billionaires, at No. 178, with a net worth of $4b. That puts him behind the two richest Israelis: shipping and real-estate magnate Sammy Ofer, No. 132, and Iscar cutting-tool billionaire and industrial-park pioneer Stef Wertheimer, No. 164, with a net worth of $3.5b.
While almost everyone on the list has been a victim of the economic crisis, and there have been a few dropouts from last year's list, in most cases, there's more than enough left with which to weather the storm.
Indeed, in recent months Ofer has been on a philanthropic spree that included, inter alia, multimillion-dollar donations to museums, academic institutions, the Druse "Yad Lebanim" and at least three medical centers. This week, together with his wife, Aviva, and son, Idan, who is chairman of the Israel Corporation, Ofer was at Beersheba's Soroka Hospital for the cornerstone ceremony of the Cardiothoracic Department and General Intensive Care Unit that will bear his name and to which he donated NIS 30 million.
Shari Arison, who is Israel's richest woman, is No. 234, with a net worth is $3.7b. The other Israelis are Benny Steinmetz, No. 334, with $2b.; Lev Leviev, No. 468, with $1.5b.; Yitzhak Tshuva, No. 559, with $1.3b.; and Michael Federmann and Morris Kahn, tied at No. 701, with a net worth of $1b. each.
For some strange reason, Kazakhstan billionaire and president of the Euro-Asian Jewish Congress Alexander Machkevich, who is No. 601, with a personal fortune of $1.2b., is routinely included among the Israelis on the list. So is Israeli expatriate Arnon Milchen, who, even though he has business and philanthropic interests in Israel, spends most of his time in the US and is No. 334, with a net worth of $2b. Fellow expatriate Haim Saban, who also has philanthropic and business interests in Israel, does not appear with the Israelis but with the Americans. Saban is No. 261, with a net worth of $2.5b.
Very high on the list are two other members of the tribe: Larry Ellison, cofounder and CEO of Oracle Corporation; and New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg. A self-proclaimed agnostic, Ellison, who is the fourth-richest person in the world, with a net worth of $22.5b., was raised in Chicago by adoptive Jewish parents. Bloomberg, No. 17, has given $800m. to charity over the past five years. Formerly a trader at Salomon Brothers, he resigned with $10m. of stock that enabled him to launch his financial-data and news empire. His net worth is $16b., but even with his fiscal genius, it will be difficult for him to put New York in the black in the face of collapsed business ventures and reduced earnings that will impact on city tax revenues.
EVEN THOUGH there's been some rain over the past couple of weeks, Israel is still experiencing a water crisis. The Water Authority, with the backing of the Finance Ministry, is launching a multimillion-shekel yearlong emergency campaign to make the public conscious of the need to save water and avoid waste. The final budget for the campaign has yet to be determined, and the project is on hold until the new government takes office.
The scarcity of water is likely to result in a rise in its cost. No final decision has been taken on the increase in water rates, but having to pay more for water may cause householders to be more careful about how they use it. The Water Authority has lined up a host of celebrities to help spread the message, including supermodel Bar Rafaeli.
MOST PARENTS are proud of their children whether they're great achievers or not. Certainly architect Arieh Ginzburg is justifiably proud of his supermodel and budding film-star daughter Esti Ginzburg, who is about to enter the army. But it seems a shame the PR firm that is publicizing the dream house he designed makes a pointing of noting who his daughter is rather than allowing the NIS 11m. house in Tel Aviv's Tzahala neighborhood to speak for itself.
The futuristic house inspired by Tuscany and Provence is made from orange steel. It appears to float in the air above an artificial lake, which contains huge water-spouting basalt boulders lit by underwater lighting and runs the whole length of the building. Half the walls of the building are metal, while the rest are glass. The house is spacious and has many unique architectural features; it was also constructed via a unique method that does away with obsolete ideas and materials.
Ginzburg spent 10 years planning his dream house, which doesn't need to be used for residential purposes. Many people prefer to have the ambience of a home for business dinners, large family celebrations and medium-sized conferences rather than a hotel or a convention hall. Ginzburg's house can fill the bill on all these counts. For anyone who prefers to have it as a residence, it's a luxurious villa that is perfect for anyone who entertains a lot, especially if they want to host a charity event that includes a fashion show. Who knows, Esti Ginzburg might be prepared to model in her daddy's creation.