Forbes, which is regarded as one of the more reliable American business publications, has listed the net worth of one of the most recent Russian immigrants to make aliyah at around $11.5 billion. That’s arguably more than the total net worth of all the Russian immigrants who came to Israel in the year that the Iron Curtain was permanently removed.
There are a number of Russian oligarchs with Israeli citizenship. Not all of them live in Israel, nor were all of them actually born in Russia, some coming from other parts of the former Soviet Union. But in the billionaire and millionaire stakes, they’re all classed as Russians.
The wealthiest of them all – if the Forbes assessment is correct – is Roman Abramovich, 51, whose roots are actually in Lithuania. Although he has diverse business interests in various parts of the globe and has given tens of millions of dollars to mostly educational and medical causes in all of the countries where he has lived, he is best known as the owner of the Chelsea Football Club in England where he has one of his homes.
The Chelsea ownership in itself gives him a lot of international clout, but he is also rumored to have the ear of Russian President Vladimir Putin. Another of his homes is in Neveh Tzedek, an upmarket neighborhood which could be considered the smoked salmon in the sandwich between Tel Aviv and Jaffa. It was the first Jewish neighborhood to be built outside of the Jaffa Port area.
Abramovich is a far more generous philanthropist than is generally known, mainly because he likes to keep a low profile on his philanthropy; very often, his largesse is not made public until long afterwards. In March, it was revealed that he had donated $20 million for the construction of a research center for nuclear medicine at Sheba Medical Center in Tel Aviv, making his donation to Sheba to date a total of $57 million. Before that, it was disclosed that Abramovich was the mystery donor in 2015 of a $30 million commitment towards the construction of Tel Aviv University’s Center for Nanoscience and Nanotechnology, scheduled to open in 2020.
Over the past 20 years, Abramovich has donated in excess of $500 million to Jewish causes in the former Soviet Union, Israel and elsewhere.
In April, it was announced that in honor of the upcoming 20th anniversary in 2019 of the Federation of Jewish Communities of Russia, federation President Rabbi Alexander Boroda and Russian Chief Rabbi Berel Lazar wanted to give public recognition to people who have made vital contributions to their work.
Abramovich has been an ongoing supporter, and is among the first to be recognized as such – even though other billionaires and millionaires who were born in the Soviet Union have also made significant financial contributions towards the revitalization of Jewish life in the FSU.
In Russia alone, there are more than 160 Jewish communities, and Abramovich supports them all.
Most recently, Abramovich footed the bill for 68 Israeli children and 38 caregivers to attend the World Cup soccer matches in Russia.
In January, Chelsea FC launched the global campaign “Say no to Antisemitism,” spearheaded by Abramovich as a means to raise awareness and counter bigotry aimed at Jews. As part of the long-term, global initiative, in July of this year, it was also announced that Abramovich, through the Chelsea Football Club, had teamed up 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. Preparations for this joint effort had been published in April, but the final agreement became official in July.
It was not the club’s first venture with the WJC. In January, it was part of the congress’s ‘We Remember’ campaign in relation to the annually commemorated anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz.
A former governor of Russia’s remote eastern province of Chukotka, where he improved the quality of life and still contributes to various charities, Abramovich made his fortune through diverse business interests which include minerals, energy, high tech, venture capital, real estate, consumer goods and more. He has also invested in several Israeli start-ups.