When the White House announced the recipients of the Presidential Medal of Freedom last Saturday, one awardee was not like the others. There was an odd mix of dead heroes and sports figures, including Babe Ruth, Elvis Presley and former football stars Roger Staubach and Alan Page, who went on to become the first black justice on the Minnesota Supreme Court. The other male cited was Sen. Orrin Hatch, who is due to retire soon. The only woman among the seven honorees is Miriam Adelson, a native of Haifa who was cited as “a committed doctor, philanthropist and humanitarian” and who has specialized in studying narcotic addiction and founded two research and treatment centers focused on substance abuse.
Indeed, Dr. Adelson has laudatory credentials, but the press release did not mention that she and her husband, Sheldon, a casino magnate, have been major supporters and now friends of President Trump and the Republican Party. The Adelsons reportedly contributed $87 million to GOP candidates in the 2018 midterm elections.
The choice of Dr. Adelson was criticized by a number of liberals who saw her selection as simple payback by the president for her and her husband’s support. The Washington Post headline read: “Miriam Adelson Gave The GOP Millions. Trump is giving her the Medal of Freedom.” But this is not the first president to use the Medal to reward supporters, including Barack Obama honoring Oprah Winfrey, who was a key figure in his 2008 campaign.
Whatever one thinks of the choice of Miriam Adelson for the Medal of Freedom, it’s worth noting the key roles she plays in both Jewish philanthropy and medical advances. She has heavily influenced her husband in his support for Israel and a long list of charitable Jewish causes here and in Israel, most notably Birthright Israel and the Israeli American Council, which seeks to strengthen the Israeli and Jewish identities of the next generation of Israelis living in America through Hebrew classes for children and cultural programs for adults. And she has been a low-key but active leader in the field of medicine, not only in creating centers — again, here and in Israel — focused on the plague of drug addiction but in also treating patients herself.
While much of Sheldon Adelson’s fortune has benefited from those with an addiction to gambling, Miriam Adelson has devoted her professional life, beginning long before she met and married her husband, to treating and seeking a cure for young people with drug addiction.