It was another in the endless series of calls that Ted Arison received, asking for a handout. The person on the phone a few years ago wanted a sizable sum, as he had in the past.
Mr. Arison gave the full amount.
“Why don’t you simply say, ‘No! That’s enough!’?” Maks Birnbach asked his old friend.
“He could not say no,” Birnbach says of Mr. Arison, who died last week of a heart attack in his Tel Aviv home.
Arison, 75, was founder of Carnival Cruise Lines, the world’s biggest cruise line company, chairman of the Arison Investments consortium that bought a controlling share in Israel’s Bank Hapoalim in 1997, and owner of Israel’s largest construction company.
He was the wealthiest Israeli, with a net worth estimated at $5.6 billion last year by Forbes magazine, and probably the richest Jew in the world.
A low-key philanthropist, he ate at a local falafel stand, maintained his old friendships, and insisted on being called Ted. “Mr. Arison was my father,” he would say. He also amassed a large private art collection, and made donations to a wide variety of educational, cultural, medical and political causes in Israel.
Likud leader Ariel Sharon mourned Mr. Arison as “a precious human being, a proud Jew and Zionist, who connected his own lot with that of the State of Israel and the Jewish people in all walks of life.”
“Arison’s contribution shall be remembered for generations,” said Prime Minister Ehud Barak.
“He loved music. He loved art,” says Birnbach, a Manhattan diamond importer who was Arison’s friend since their days together in a Tel Aviv high school in the 1930s.
Born in Zicharon Yaacov, the son of a shipping company owner, Mr. Arison studied engineering at the American University of Beirut but broke off his studies to join the Jewish Brigade of the British Army during World War II. After the war he took over the family business, served in the Haganah, and left Israel in the early 1950s as a protest against the government’s increasingly socialist economic policies.
Virtually penniless when he arrived in the United States, he lived in Miami and embarked on several air cargo ventures, visiting Israel frequently for vacations.
“He was an Israeli first, then a Jew,” Birnbach says.
Mr. Arison became a world-class shipping tycoon upon entering the holiday cruise business with the launch in 1972 of Carnival Cruise Lines, which he built into the Carnival Corporation. It now owns 45 ships.
He was one of the original partners of the Miami Heat basketball team when it was awarded a National Basketball Association franchise in 1987. His son Micky now owns the team.
He returned to Israel in 1990, giving up his American citizenship. He used his business skills to help Israel transform from a socialist economy to a free market. “He wanted to be an Israeli. He didn’t want to be an American in Israel,” Birnbach says.
Battling cancer for several years, he continued to go to his office every day.
Mr. Arison is survived by his wife, Lin; two sons, Micky and Michael; a daughter, Shari; and nine grandchildren.