Warren Buffett isn’t the first American philanthropist to make a major donation to the Rambam Hospital in Haifa, Israel, but his recent $10 million donation, announced at an event celebrating the 75th anniversary of the hospital, is something of an anomaly.
While philanthropists such as Sandy and Joan Weill and Sheldon Adelson are also major supporters of the hospital, both Weill and Adelson are of Jewish descent, while Buffett is not. In fact Buffett’s donation may well be the largest donation ever to come from someone who is not Jewish.
So what exactly prompted the donation? The keys, in this case, are Buffett’s business interests in Israel, and his friend Eitan Wertheimer. In 2006, Buffett’s holding company, Berkshire Hathaway, paid $4 billion to Wertheimer’s family for their 80% share of the Israeli tool manufacturer Iscar. Somewhat unusually, the two ended up developing a friendship as a result of the sale, and Wertheimer still serves as chair of the tool company.
Wertheimer also happens to be a former Chairman of KMR, Inc., the Rambam Hospital – Medical School and Research Institute, and currently chairs a non-profit dedicated to its development and expansion. So it was almost certainly Wertheimer’s involvement in the hospital, along with Buffet’s general dedication to giving back to the communities where Berkshire Hathaway has a presence that prompted this particular gift.
With Berkshire’s holdings totaling over $450 billion in assets, and including a number of multi-national corporations, it makes one wonder who else may hold sway over Buffett’s giving, and what other non-profits may benefit.