Members of the press have been calling me non-stop about our gala dinner on May 28, the annual Champion of Jewish Values International Awards Gala in New York. They are interested in Anne Frank’s best friend, Jacqueline Van Maarsen, who will be traveling from Amsterdam. They want to know what US Senators Bob Menendez and Ted Cruz plan to say. They seek to discover if our guest of honor, Nobel laureate Elie Wiesel, has ever previously m et the friend whom Anne Frank writes about in her diary, or Sir Ben Kingsley, who will be accepting a Holocaust memory award. But above all else they want to know about Dr. Miriam and Sheldon Adelson.
Much, of course, has been written about Sheldon. Less so about his partner in every aspect of their lives, Miriam.
In March 2014, I received a phone call from my friend Miriam Adelson asking me to read a New York Times article that had just come out detailing the story of the “Afghan-Muslim” Romeo and Juliet.
The story, by Rod Nordland, a Pulitzer prize-winning Times Kabul bureau chief, detailed the moving and romantic tale of Mohammad and Zakia, two young people from Afghanistan who had fallen in love against the wishes of the girl’s family.
Zakia is a Tajik Sunni Muslim while Mohammad is a Hazara Shia Muslim.
Marriages between the two groups are seen as dishonorable by the Tajiks. Zakia faced the possibility of an “honor killing” by her own family, specifically her father and brothers, for threatening to run off with Mohammad and marry him.
Miriam Adelson expressed to me how moved she was by the romantic story.
“Is there anything we can do to rescue them?” she asked. “Is there anything we can do to save them? After some searching I tracked down the reporter in Afghanistan who had written the story. He shared with me the urgency of the couple’s situation. It was difficult to help them, as they were in hiding. He described the safe house that Zakia had fled to for protection – a women’s shelter in Bamian, where Zakia could find temporary refuge from her family’s threats of death. It was ruled that she would be legally required to remain at the shelter, pending the court’s final decision on whether she would be forcibly returned to her family.
However, Mr. Nordland explained that now, Fatima Kazimi, the woman employed by the Afghan government to run the shelter, has had her own life and that of her family endangered for her efforts to help prevent the likely honor killing Zakia was facing. In particular, Kazimi had been accused of aiding Zakia’s escape from the women’s shelter and complicity in her elopement with Mohammed Ali. Kazimi was threatened with death for her actions.
We could not fully help Mohammed and Zakia as they were still in hiding. But Miriam insisted on rescuing Kazimi and her family, and extracting them from Afghanistan so that they would not be harmed. I had conversations with the US government, specifically the office of Samantha Power, whom I had supported for the position of United Nations ambassador because of her anti-genocide voice, and the embassy in Kabul, asking that asylum for the family be granted in the United States. It all proved fruitless. But I was able to reach out to my friend the president of Rwanda, Paul Kagame, and ask him for political asylum for the couple. He happily agreed. They were able to escape via India and are now safely in Rwanda. All of this was inspired and funded by Miriam Adelson. She called and coordinated with me day and night to ensure that this family would be rescued.
Stories like these are common for Miriam.
I’m always amazed at the criticism she and her husband, Sheldon, get from those who do not know them. The critics focus on the Adelsons’ support of the Republican Party. In truth, political activities comprise a small part of their public involvement. They are much more engaged – and put far greater funds toward – in innumerable philanthropic activities.
The only reason I can disclose this particular story is that the family in Afghanistan publicly thanked Miriam for her efforts to rescue them and Miriam’s name appeared in the Times.
Miriam received her medical training at Tel Aviv University and the Sackler School of Medicine. An addiction specialist, she opened the Dr. Miriam and Sheldon G. Adelson Clinic for Drug Abuse Treatment & Research in Las Vegas and in Tel Aviv. When I took Dr.
Mehmet Oz and his family for their first visit to Israel in the summer of 2013, Dr.
Oz was highly impressed during our visit to the Tel Aviv addiction clinic.
Miriam does not merely provide funding for the clinics. She is actively involved in saving the lives of patients and spends a great number hours in the Las Vegas clinic. She once called me in a despondent mood and tearfully related how an addict, a woman whom she had worked with for months, had overdosed. Miriam was inconsolable.
On Israel Independence Day of this year, Miriam invited me to speak about Israel at the Jewish day school that she and Sheldon built, the beautiful Adelson Educational Campus in Las Vegas. After attending the speech she remained for hours after watching with joy as the children danced in celebration of the Jewish state’s birthday. Miriam’s passions are the American military and the Wounded Warriors Project, medical research, and above all her native State of Israel. Miriam knows first-hand the importance of ensuring the Jewish people’s safety and security. Her mother’s entire family and nearly all her relatives were murdered in Poland during the Holocaust. Her mother alone survived, because she had moved to Israel.
Miriam is not only involved with countless charities, such as Birthright, that support Israel, but she’s prepared to put her name and reputation on the line to defend the Jewish state, even as she incurs non-stop attacks from Israel-haters throughout the world who threaten her and her husband.
As a rabbi and a Jewish activist who shares Miriam’s passion for Israel and the Jewish people, I have always admired how much time, energy, and resources she dedicates to Israel. And she doesn’t just write checks – which would be plenty.
Miriam is constantly at work and on the phone, helping to steer Jewish philanthropies toward providing for people who are in need and giving to causes that involve the defense of Israel.
Miriam has also been a great friend to me personally. On the many occasions when I have felt disheartened at the growing anti-Semitism around the world, and the demonization of the State of Israel, Miriam has reminded me that throughout history there have been a select few, “Maccabees” as she calls them, who have emerged to stand up for and defend the Jewish people.
There are few more gallant warriors as dedicated to defending Israel and providing for those in need than Miri, as she is affectionately known to her many friend and admirers.
On May 28, we look forward to publicly honoring a lioness of the Jewish people and an unequaled champion of the first Jewish state in 2,000 years.
The writer is founder of The World Values Network and is the international best-selling author of 30 books