Israeli Billionaire Shari Arison Promotes ‘Good Deeds Day’

by Abigail Pickus

Shari Arison just wants us all to do good.

Israel’s wealthiest woman – who happens to also be the richest woman in the Middle East and #57 on Forbes Most Powerful Women in the World list – has made it her mission to encourage good deeds and positive thinking.

“I believe that in order make a difference in the world and to make the world a better place for all of us, we need a critical mass of people who think good and do good. If we join together we can really make a difference,” said Arison in a recent phone interview with eJP.

There’s even a day earmarked for mitzvothGood Deeds Day – which was launched in 2007 by Arison’s nonprofit Ruach Tova and supported by The Ted Arison Family Foundation. What began with over 7,000 participants throughout Israel that first year has turned into a worldwide celebration with 2011 seeing 160,000 do-gooders across the globe volunteering in everything from cleaning nature reserves and donating blood to reading to youth-at-risk. (This year, Good Deeds Day will be held internationally on March 25th and on March 20th in Israel.)

Good Deeds Day has really taken off since its inception. Last year in Israel, 130,000 people actively participated in ‘doing good’ across the country. Participants included school children, businesses, IDF soldiers and municipalities, with 90 Israeli authorities signing on, including 30 Arab towns and villages. Ukraine has taken a particular shine to the mission, and devoted an entire week to doing good. Hillel: The Foundation for Jewish Campus Life, spearheaded initiatives in Kiev, Kharkov, Lvov, Dnepropetrovsk, Odessa, Sevastopol and Simferopol.

Such global unity is the impetus behind this day of giving.

“We are really all one,” said Arison. “It’s really important to understand that concept because anything done anywhere in the globe affects us. It doesn’t matter if it’s environmental or economic, it affects all of us. We are all connected, we are all in the same boat, and if we want a better future, let’s start acting like that.”

Born in New York, Shari is the daughter of Mina Arison Sapir and Ted Arison, who made his fortune as founder of Carnival Cruise Lines. She grew up in both America and Israel. Today, Arison is perhaps most well known for owning Bank Hapoalim, but the Arison Group, which she heads, also includes everything from one of Israel’s largest real estate companies to Israel’s largest salt manufacturer. The group’s philanthropic arm, the Ted Arison Family Foundation, includes an organization called Essence of Life whose aim is to encourage inner peace in Israel and abroad. Arison’s bestselling book, Birth: When the Spiritual and the Material Come Together, was published in English in 2009.

Indeed, giving back is an essential component to the billionaire’s philosophy that permeates all of Arison’s companies and organizations. All employees and organizations are encouraged to participate in Good Deeds Day and to give back to the community.

“I’ve always been like this,” said Arison. “I’ve always cared about the people around me and nature. It is just part of my soul.”

To Arison, the concepts of ‘doing good’ are universal – not necessarily only Jewish.

“These are basic human values of giving, of caring, of making the better world a better place. We would call it, tikkun olam, making our world a better world for all of us,” she said.

Arison’s most recent project is a website where people can actually “do good” on a global level. “Goodnet – A Gateway to Doing Good,” offers viewers a chance to help the planet, “take care of yourself from the inside out,” share their stories of doing good, and more.

Her group is also working on a new project called “All One” where people can actively “take part in our collective future.”

Whatever the issue – from security to the environment to education or health care – each person will be able to vote and express their opinions for what they would like to see for a better future for themselves and their children, according to Arison.

There is still time for your community/organization/business to participate in Good Deeds Day this year; here’s how you can get started.

images: Shari Arison participating in Good Deeds Day Israel, 2011; courtesy