Fighting against hate, fearing no evil

#37 - Warriors against antisemitism: Roman Abramovich and Natan Sharansky

(L-R) Natan Sharansky & Roman Abramovich (Photo credits: Marc Israel Sellem) (photo credit: JERUSALEM POST)
(L-R) Natan Sharansky & Roman Abramovich (Photo credits: Marc Israel Sellem)
(photo credit: JERUSALEM POST)
Roman Abramovich has plenty of business endeavors, but is best known outside Russia as the owner of English Premier League soccer club Chelsea.
According to Forbes, Abramovich’s net worth was $12.9 billion in 2019, making him the richest person in Israel, 10th-richest in Russia, and the 113th-richest person in the world.
Abramovich is also a far more generous philanthropist than is generally known, primarily because he is notoriously private.
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Over the past 20 years, Abramovich has donated in excess of $500 million to Jewish causes in the former Soviet Union, Israel and elsewhere, including to the Sheba Medical Center, Tel Aviv University’s Center for Nanoscience and Nanotechnology and Haifa-based Yad Ezer La-Haver foundation, which houses Holocaust survivors He financially assists each of the close to 200 Jewish communities in Russia, is chairman of the Federation of Jewish Communities of Russia, is a trustee of the Moscow Jewish Museum and donates globally to the Chabad movement.
FJCR president Rabbi Alexander Boroda noted in 2018 that “much of the work we do has been made possible thanks to Mr. Abramovich, and we are deeply thankful for his continued support.”
Boroda described how 80% of the developments in Jewish life in Russia are thanks to Abramovich, adding: “He never talks about it, but I want to because people don’t understand who the source of it is – and it is him.” In 2018, Chelsea launched the “Say No To Antisemitism” campaign, spearheaded by Abramovich as a means to raise awareness and counter bigotry. The campaign sees the club partner with the Holocaust Educational Trust, the Community Security Trust, Kick It Out, the Jewish Museum, the World Jewish Congress and the Anne Frank House to challenge antisemitism in soccer.
Abramovich, through Chelsea, has also collaborated with the World Jewish Congress in a global Pitch for Hope campaign to fight racism, xenophobia, antisemitism and any other form of discrimination in sports.
Abramovich’s family is originally from Lithuania, and both his parents died when he was young. The now-53-year-old made his fortune through diverse business interests, which include minerals, energy, hi-tech, venture capital, real estate and consumer goods. He has also invested in several Israeli start-ups.
In 2018, Abramovich was granted Israeli citizenship, and he purchased the Varsano boutique hotel in Tel Aviv’s Neveh Tzedek district for more than $27m. from actress Gal Gadot’ husband.
In 2019, Abramovich was in attendance as Chelsea Women beat the Israel national team 3-1 in Petah Tikva, and just this year he bought an estate in Herzliya for $64.5m. – a record high real estate sale in the country – leading to speculation that he plans on spending more time on Israeli shores.
IN HIS new book, Never Alone, coauthored with Prof. Gil Troy, Natan Sharansky recalls: “Growing up Jewish in the Soviet Union offered nothing positive. No Jewish tradition. No Jewish institutions. No Jewish culture.... The only real Jewish experience I had was facing antisemitism.” Since 1967, when he and so many Soviet Jews experienced a Jewish reawakening, Sharansky has built a rich Jewish life. He jokes that during nine years of imprisonment in the Gulag, it “was easy to be a Jew, you just had to say no to the KGB.” Once the worldwide campaign spearheaded by his wife, Avital, freed him, he discovered how exhausting it is to be Jewish.
Subsequently, during nine years in politics, serving in four Israeli governments, then nine years heading the Jewish Agency, Sharansky the dissident became a bridge-builder, mediating between religious and secular, and between Israelis and Diaspora Jews. By championing Birthright, Masa, and other identity-building programs, he helped reorient the Zionist conversation to focus on Israel as an inspiration to all Jews.
Throughout this time, his fight against antisemitism persisted. In 2002, he was one of the first to warn about the growing Jew-hatred haunting American campuses. His “3Ds” showed that anti-Zionists are being antisemitic when they delegitimize the Jewish state, demonize it, and hold it to double standards.
This year, having retired from the agency, the 72-year-old human rights activist has remained a warrior against Jew-hatred, on the Right and Left. Heading the Institute for the Study of Global Antisemitism and Policy, he’s resisting today’s intellectual totalitarianism, cancel culture and doublethink, which he warns starts by targeting Jews, then goes broader.
He also managed to finish the book, win the 2020 Genesis Prize, donate the proceeds to fighting COVID-19, and release a video that went viral as the corona crisis began. The three-minute clip offered five tips on coping with isolation, reassuring young people that when you belong to something greater than yourself like the Jewish people, you are never alone.