Shari Arison, Israel's Wealthiest Woman, Says She Can See the Future. Really.
Monday, August 31, 2009
TEL AVIV The office door has a steel vault veneer, and Shari Arison -- controlling stockholder in Israel's largest bank and its largest construction company, heiress to the Carnival Cruise Lines fortune and head of a long list of other undertakings -- has a lot to protect.
And as with any proper vault, this one is full of surprises.
Fairy figurines fill a knickknack shelf, and paintings of fairies hang from the soft-toned walls. Statues of dolphins leap from a cream-colored carpet, and goldfish gurgle in a tank just behind a chair. A yard-long see-through candleholder with a dozen flickering votives is angled across Arison's desk, looking like it connects to Kabbalah or the Upanishads or Area 51 or Something Larger Than Us, but which she says is there just because.
But the biggest jolt comes from the woman in the executive chair: Arison -- billionaire ($2.7 by Forbes's most recent estimate), perhaps the richest woman in the Middle East, a major force in Israeli philanthropy -- claims that she can see the future.
This is much bigger than a parlor trick. In her new book published this summer in Israel, the 51-year-old Miami native says she felt the Indonesian tsunami sweeping over the land two months before it happened and sensed Hurricane Katrina pummeling New Orleans. In an interview, Arison says she also "saw the writing on the wall" before the global economic crash. Reading about Arison's extrasensory perception makes you ache for a heads-up, maybe a blog entry or a tweet or a phone call to Brownie or Greenspan or somebody who might have helped.
Arison explains that she has finally dropped the fear that has held her back from doing more about what she has perceived. Armed with the insight gained through work with Florida-based psychiatrist Brian Weiss, a proponent of regression therapy and the exploration of (take your pick) deep memories or past lives, she says she is ready to go public with her visions and bring together her spiritual and business goals.
"Dr. Weiss told me during these meetings that one day I will have a significant role in world peace, but at that time I did not know what he was talking about and I could not cope with the idea," Arison writes in "Birth: When the Material and Spiritual Come Together," published in Hebrew as a hybrid memoir, corporate vision statement and collection of speeches. A possible English edition is in negotiation, according to an Arison representative.
"Over the years I suffered much from the visions, the feelings and these messages . . . I prayed they would go away. They brought much pain to my life. This was the preparation for the current phase, the phase in which I am ready to declare what I know with courage and without fear."
Arison says she plans to mobilize her wealth, her companies and, most important, the energy of her accumulated lives to save the human race. As a businesswoman, Arison has an environmental focus -- green building, renewable energy, water management. As a philanthropist and erstwhile spiritual role model, she had already been taking action -- like encouraging good works and promoting the kind of inner harmony she believes will do as much as summit meetings to keep people, and particularly Arabs and Jews, from hurting each other.
Arison and her family are well known in Israel. The name is stamped on public projects throughout the Tel Aviv area in particular, and the Arisons have been major figures in the country's philanthropic community ever since her father, Ted, built his opulent network of floating hotels decades ago. After his death in 1999, Shari Arison inherited his Israel investments, including a stake in the country's largest bank, Bank Hapoalim, and she began emerging in her own right as an Israeli businesswoman.
Her public image has always been built on duality, generating both talk-show gibes and praise for her charity work. There is the Shari Arison who was criticized as heartless in 2002 when the bank laid off 10 percent of its staff, and the Shari Arison who launched the nonprofit Essence of Life in 2001 to help people find their personal peace; the Shari Arison with the house-size yacht and the three divorces -- the latest after her husband was convicted of smooching the domestic help -- and the Shari Arison who mobilizes Israel on Good Deeds Day, on which everyone is encouraged to do at least one nice thing.
Israel, by now, is used to the extremes. The book made a splash with its startling claims about her visions, and has been on the summer's bestseller lists for lifestyle and self-help books.