Sports Team Owner Pledges $75 Million to Hadassah

By Nathaniel Popper

Published March 09, 2007, issue of March 09, 2007.
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A Detroit businessman and professional sports team owner has pledged $75 million to help build a new hospital tower in Jerusalem.

The gift, from glass magnate Bill Davidson, is believed to be the second largest ever devoted to a Jewish cause. Last year, fertilizer executive Ronald Stanton pledged $100 million to Yeshiva University.

Davidson’s donation will go toward an extension of Jerusalem’s Hadassah Ein Kerem Hospital.

The gift comes with an unusually personal back-story. In 1921, Davidson’s grandfather helped purchase an ambulance for the Zionist Medical Corps, which was partially run by Hadassah. Davidson’s mother helped start the Detroit chapter of the Zionist women’s organization, and, Davidson said in a statement, he remembers when Hadassah founder Henrietta Szold came to stay at the family house in Detroit.

“Mr. Davidson doesn’t usually fund brick-and-mortar type projects,” said Jonathan Aaron, Davidson’s assistant and son-in-law. “But here there was the history and the family ties.”

The new hospital wing will be named for Davidson’s mother, Sarah Wetsman Davidson. The tower will be 14 stories tall and hold 500 beds. All told, it will cost $210 million. The larger fundraising campaign will start this summer.

Davidson, who is estimated to be worth $4 billion, has been one of a few super-wealthy Jews to reliably give enormous gifts to Jewish causes. He gave more than $20 million to both Technion University and the Weizmann Institute, and another $25 million went to New York’s Jewish Theological Seminary.

Closer to home, Davidson, 84, has been president of both his Conservative synagogue and the Jewish federation in Detroit.

Davidson made his fortune by building up Guardian Industries, a glass-manufacturing company. The company built the walls for the towering Time Warner Center in Manhattan. To help spur growth in Israel, Davidson opened a glass-manufacturing company in the north of the country. Last year, Davidson traveled to the plant to announce a $40 million expansion during this past summer’s Lebanon war.

Davidson’s more public successes have come in the world of sports. He owns professional basketball teams in Detroit — both men’s and women’s — as well as the professional hockey team in Tampa Bay, Fla. All three teams won their respective league championships in the summer of 2004. Two weeks ago, Davidson was one of 10 people nominated for induction into the Basketball Hall of Fame.

As for whether Davidson’s competitive streak will lead him to beat the $100 million record for a Jewish cause, his philanthropic adviser, Bob Aronson, said, “I don’t want to say there is nothing in the works.”

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