This Friday President Trump will award Dr. Miriam Adelson the Presidential Medal of Freedom. Press commentary has included the fact that the Adelsons are huge political contributors to the President’s party and that’s why Miriam is receiving the award.
Dr. Adelson is someone who has always believed in doing good deeds quietly. She has told me many times that she was raised to assist others without ever robbing them of their dignity or taking credit herself. She would no doubt ask me not to publish this article. But over many years I have been sincerely impressed with her golden heart and it behooves me to share why she deserves to be acknowledged as global philanthropist, human rights activist, and a physician devoted to those whose lives are destroyed by the absolute hell of addiction.
Her husband, Sheldon, is a larger-than-life business executive with an outsize personality. It makes sense that he often dominates news about the couple. But anyone who knows the Adelsons is aware of what an extraordinary person Miri is and that she is the engine that drives so much of the couple’s astonishing good works.
Yes, the Adelsons are large political contributors, particularly to candidates who are strong on Israel. But their charitable giving to hospitals, medical research, Universities, wounded American veterans, Birthright Israel, Friends of the FIDF, and Miri’s rehab clinics – which she does not just fund but is actively involved in saving the lives of patients – dwarf by far any campaign contributions.
Then there are the endless people who contact the Adelsons for personal assistance. Once, when Miri was in New York without Sheldon – a rarity – for medical foundation meetings, I visited her and watched as she made endless phone calls to help a family who had an urgent need. Over the next few hours she spoke to me and my son Mendy, a NYU undergraduate, about how to combat the BDS bullying that Jewish students were experiencing on campus.
I was astonished. Here was one of the wealthiest women in the world, with a single day in New York City, and rather than enjoying some free time on the town her entire day went to helping people.
For years I have served as a personal witness to how so many of her waking moments are dedicated to healing hearts, defending Israel, distributing charitable funds, and showing respect to all whom she meets.
I have personally visited Miri’s addiction clinics – both in Las Vegas and in Tel Aviv – and seen how she balances personalized care to individual patients while balancing global philanthropic efforts that reach across continents. I brought Dr. Oz with me to the clinic in Israel where we heard about the countless lives that are saved from the horrors substance abuse. Miri once called me in a despondent mood and tearfully related to me how an addict – a mother who she had worked with for months – had overdosed. Miriam was inconsolable.
When my wife Debbie was recently not feeling well and required a procedure, it was Miri who was one of the first on the phone as physician and friend, giving advice and comfort. When my son Mendy was serving in an elite Israeli army combat unit and suffered a training accident, Miri was calling constantly to ensure we were getting him proper care.
Many around the world focus on Miriam’s devotion to Israel and tireless advocacy for the Jewish State’s security. And it’s understandable that a woman whose mother is the sole survivor of a family of approximately 80 murdered by Hitler would dedicate her life to the safety of her people, both as a former IDF officer and now as a philanthropist. But what is less known is how much Miri’s efforts by far transcend the Jewish community.
In March 2014 Miriam called 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, the Pulitzer prize-winning New York Times Kabul bureau chief, detailed a 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 running off with Mohammad and marrying him.
“Is there anything we can do to rescue them?” Miri asked me. “How can we save them?
That phone call began an odyssey of nearly three years of our joint efforts, led by Miri, to save the couple’s life. (The real hero of the story, Nordland himself, wrote a best-selling book about the story called “The Lovers.”)
After some searching I tracked down Nordland in Afghanistan. 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 whether she would be forcibly returned to her family or not.
However, Nordland explained that now, in an ironic twist of fate, Fatima Kazimi, the woman officially employed by the Afghan government to run the shelter, 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, Fatima had been accused of aiding Zakia’s escape from the women’s shelter and complicity in her elopement with Mohammed Ali. Fatima was threatened with death for her actions.
We could not fully help Mohamed and Zakia as they were still in hiding. But Miriam insisted on rescuing Fatima and her family and extracting them from Afghanistan so that they would not be harmed. The President of Rwanda, Paul Kagame, granted political asylum for the couple and helped to save their lives. They were able to escape via India and eventually ended up in the United States. All of this was inspired by Miriam Adelson.
Later, Mohamed and Zakia would themselves miraculously make it to the United States where Miriam has continued to assist them.
As a rabbi who shares Miri’s passion for Israel and the Jewish people, I have always been astounded at the time, energy, and resources she dedicates to the Jewish state. Miri is a modern architect of the America-Israel alliance, helping to build strong institutions in both nations that champion freedom and safeguard liberty. In no place is this more evident than in the hundreds of millions of dollars she has contributed to Birthright, which has brought hundreds of thousands of young Americans to Israel, connecting the two great allies through the shared resource of youth and future leaders.
Miriam has also been a great friend to me personally. On the many occasions when I have felt dispirited at growing anti-Semitism around the world and the demonization of the state of Israel, she has reminded me that throughout history there have been a select few, “Maccabees” who have emerged to stand up for liberty and fight bigotry and tyranny.
Miri is a Maccabee for freedom. It’s fitting that President Trump should recognize her.
Mazel tov, Miri. As King Solomon says in Proverbs, “Many daughters have acted valiantly. But you have surpassed them all.”