The Jerusalem Post

Bil­lion­aire Mar­cel Adams cul­ti­vates Is­raeli brain­power

Cana­dian Holo­caust sur­vivor Mar­cel Adams, who be­came a bil­lion­aire the hard way, uses some of his vast wealth to help young Is­raeli sci­en­tists excel. Judy Siegel-Itzkovich con­ducts a rare in­ter­view


There are some mul­ti­mil­lion­aires – even bil­lion­aires – who think they can ‘ take it with them,’ and are so ad­dicted to the thrill of amass­ing money that they are re­luc­tant to share it. But not 89-year-old Mar­cel Adams – a Ro­ma­ni­an­born Holo­caust sur­vivor who left Is­rael af­ter fight­ing in the War of In­de­pen­dence.

Adams, who took only his empty pock­ets to Mon­treal in 1951 and turned them into 100 ma­jor North Amer­i­can real es­tate prop­er­ties worth around $ 1.1 bil­lion, is a dif­fer­ent type. He has long had a clear agenda as a phi­lan­thropist for do­nat­ing money to causes that are im­por­tant to him, in­clud­ing Is­rael, Canada, sci­ence and med­i­cal care, among oth­ers. And while he pro­vided some fi­nan­cial as­sis­tance to his four grown chil­dren and grand­chil­dren, he be­lieves that “ money can pro­vide a good be­gin­ning for them to grow up and take re­spon­si­bil­ity and add some­thing of sub­stance. Then let them worry about them­selves... Money has to be earned.” He wanted them to stand on their own feet, and Mon­treal-born Ju­lian, Sylvan, Linda and Le­ora have all be­come suc­cess­ful in their own right.

For ex­am­ple, his el­dest – Dr. Ju­lian Adams – is pres­i­dent of re­search and devel­op­ment and chief sci­ence of­fi­cer at In­fin­ity Phar­ma­ceu­ti­cals in Cam­bridge, Mas­sachusetts and pre­vi­ously of Mil­len­nium Phar­ma­ceu­ti­cals in the same city. An ex­pert in syn­thetic or­ganic chem­istry, Dr. Adams dis­cov­ered and de­vel­oped the block­buster drug Vel­cade, a protea­some in­hibitor for the treat­ment of can­cer, specif­i­cally ma­lig­nant myeloma.

Coin­ci­den­tally, the life­sav­ing drug was based on the “ubiq­ui­tin sys­tem” in­volv­ing a reg­u­la­tory pro­tein that breaks down other pro­teins and has a vi­tal role in many types of cells. This sys­tem, which is in­volved in the im­mune re­sponse, cell death and other pro­cesses, was dis­cov­ered in decades of re­search by Prof. Avram Her­shko and Prof. Aaron Ciechanove­r of the Tech­nion-Is­rael In­sti­tute of Technology, who shared the 2004 No­bel Prize in Chem­istry (with Ir­win Rose) for their 555 find­ings.

At the din­ner for Adams fel­lows held this month at the Is­rael Academy of Sci­ences – which se­lects fel­low­ship re­cip­i­ents ac­cord­ing to strict cri­te­ria – Dr. Adams de­liv­ered a lec­ture on his dis­cov­ery, Vel­cade.

His sis­ter Linda, a lawyer, is mar­ried to McGill Uni­ver­sity his­tory Prof. Gil Troy (a fre­quent con­trib­u­tor to the Post, while Sylvan is Iberville pres­i­dent and in day-to-day charge of run­ning the busi­ness. Le­ora is a reg­is­tered nurse in Cal­i­for­nia. THE FOUNDER of the pri­vate real es­tate em­pire, Iberville De­vel­op­ments Ltd., Mar­cel Adams is known in Canada to rou­tinely hang up on jour­nal­ists, and has only oc­ca­sion­ally given in­ter­views to the French-speak­ing press. But a few days ago in Jerusalem, he was ea­ger to talk to The Jerusalem Post af­ter host­ing many Adams Fel­low­ship win­ners – a to­tal of 59 of the coun­try’s lead­ing young brains who have re­ceived $ 100,000 stipends to pur­sue their doc­tor stud­ies in Is­rael for four years. And at 89 – his 90th birth­day will be in Au­gust – the phi­lan­thropist looked younger and more vig­or­ous than he did five years ago dur­ing the Post in­ter­view that marked the found­ing of the Adams Fel­low­ships. THE ANTI-SEMITIC regime in Ro­ma­nia dur­ing the Holo­caust in­ter­rupted his stud­ies, trig­ger­ing a life­long quest for learn­ing and a zest for life. Adams was an ac­tive mem­ber of Hanoar Hazioni in Bucharest and, when the Nazis took over, sur­vived forced la­bor be­tween 1941 and 1944, food short­ages and ar­bi­trary ha­rass­ment by the au­thor­i­ties.

He re­grets that he never at­tended uni­ver­sity, as he never had the op­por­tu­nity to get enough of a for­mal ed­u­ca­tion. Af­ter es­cap­ing from a la­bor camp to Turkey, he ar­rived in then-Pales­tine and fought for the young State of Is­rael’s ex­is­tence. Then he left for Canada to try his luck as a tan­ner of an­i­mal skins, like his fa­ther.

But uti­liz­ing nat­u­ral wheel­ing-and-deal­ing tal­ents and busi­ness acu­men that one can­not ac­quire in col­lege, Adams bought an­i­mal hides by phone in Que­bec City, and four years later he be­gan to pur­chase real es­tate there. He made a 70 per­cent profit on his first apart­ment build­ing. Eight years af­ter his ar­rival in Canada, he had al­ready opened his first in a long se­ries of shop­ping malls. And in 1953, he mar­ried his beloved An­nie, who died some years ago.

Af­ter World War II, Adams told The Post, he no­ticed that there was a vast num­ber of Cana­dian farms that “ no­body wanted.” He fo­cused on them, pur­chas­ing them first with bank credit and then with his earn­ings, and turned them into lush and spa­cious sub­ur­bia, with shop­ping malls that at­tracted post-war Cana­di­ans. Iberville also owns of­fice build­ings and fac­to­ries as well as res­i­den­tial prop­erty.

He pre­ferred to rent out prop­er­ties rather than to sell, and re­port­edly even rented his own of­fice space from oth­ers be­cause it was “ cheaper” than what he could have charged some­one else for his own prop­erty. AL­THOUGH HE didn’t stay long in Is­rael, he re­gards him­self as an ar­dent Zion­ist, and the coun­try is al­ways close to his heart; he said that be­cause it ac­cepted him af­ter the Holo­caust, he feels he is in the coun­try’s debt. “ The easy way would have been to hand over a check. I wish to pay back my debt from 1944 to the Jewish peo­ple, who gave me a new iden­tity and hope to build from the ashes of Europe.”

De­spite his age, he flies here reg­u­larly once or twice a year to meet the new crop of Adams Fel­lows and hear their ex­pla­na­tions of their sci­en­tific work. With his late wife An­nie, he also es­tab­lished the Adams In­sti­tute for Busi­ness Man­age­ment In­for­ma­tion Sys­tems at Tel Aviv Uni­ver­sity and en­dowed TAU’s Adams Su­per Cen­ter for Brain Re­search, which also get his at­ten­tion. Among many other do­na­tions in Mon­treal and else­where, they also funded an MRI cen­ter at the city’s Jewish hos­pi­tal.

Asked why he chose to en­dow sci­en­tific fel­low­ships in Is­rael rather than do­nate uni­ver­sity build­ings, Adams ex­plained: “I could have, but I fig­ured that oth­ers would give build­ings. So I de­cided to do a pro­gram. I wanted to give more and help sci­en­tific re­search,” he said in English, al­though he well un­der­stood a trib­ute in He­brew de­liv­ered at the Is­rael Academy din­ner by a for­mer fel­low who is now do­ing her post­doc­toral work.

He added with an imp­ish look that he hoped our in­ter­view would not lead to a shower of re­quests for do­na­tions to var­i­ous char­i­ties, as he al­ready knows what his fa­vorite char­i­ties and fields are.

The win­ners of the much-needed fel­low­ships for up to four years of doc­toral re­search and tu­ition are re­garded as some of Is­rael’s fu­ture stars in the nat­u­ral sci­ences, math­e­mat­ics, com­puter sci­ence, life sci­ences and en­gi­neer­ing.

“Is­raelis have brains, and are us­ing them for ad­vanc­ing hu­man­ity,” Adams said. “I am sorry to read that some politi­cians” ac­cused of bribery and other crimes, are us­ing their brains for harm­ful pur­poses. Still, he said, “the fu­ture of Is­rael is great. The lead­ers of Is­rael have to be con­vinced that sci­ence is the fu­ture.” ONE OF the bene­fac­tors of Adams’s largess is the new Adams fel­low Itai Roff­man, a 27-year-old Uni­ver­sity of Haifa doc­toral stu­dent who works with the famed Dr. Jane Goodall in­ves­ti­gat­ing the chim­panzee fam­ily and the evo­lu­tion of pre­his­toric man. His doc­toral work fo­cuses on the the­ory of evo­lu­tion of pre­his­toric man, show­ing that chim­panzees are the “ broth­ers” of Homo sapi­ens and ar­gu­ing that they should be “ in­cluded in the fam­ily.”

Roff­man said hu­mans and chim­panzees share 94% of their genes. He even suc­ceeded in teach­ing his mod­er­ately re­tarded 23-year-old brother Orr to com­mu­ni­cate and ex­press him­self by ob­serv­ing and be­ing ex­posed to chim­panzees and us­ing a key­board com­prised of 450 keys.

Avi­tal Suissa, who comes from a haredi fam­ily of 11 chil­dren in north­ern Jerusalem, is an­other Adams fel­low. The only one of her sib­lings who con­tin­ued to higher ed­u­ca­tion af­ter high school, she is con­duct­ing re­search on a cure for di­a­betes at the He­brew Uni­ver­sity. Af­ter her stud­ies as a lab tech­ni­cian in a spe­cial pro­gram for haredi women at Hadas­sah Col­lege, it was sug­gested to Suissa that she get prac­ti­cal ex­pe­ri­ence in a re­search lab. Her bril­liance quickly shined through, and she em­barked on her mas­ter’s stud­ies, switch­ing to a di­rect-track PhD two years ago. Now she doesn’t have to worry about work­ing off-cam­pus to pay her tu­ition and rent, thanks to Adams.

She is the first mas­ter’s de­gree stu­dent in the world to have pre­sented her work at the pres­ti­gious US Na­tional In­sti­tutes of Sci­ence.

Klim Efre­menko, who is do­ing his doc­tor­ate in com­puter sci­ence at TAU, is an­other Adams fel­low. Born in 1982 in Kaza­khstan, he came on aliya 15 years ago. A math­e­mat­ics en­thu­si­ast from early child­hood, he won his city’s math tour­na­ment at the age of nine. By 10th grade, he had com­pleted his ma­tric­u­la­tion in the sub­ject; at the age of 17, he was ac­cepted as a full-time stu­dent in the Ex­cel­lence Pro­gram of Haifa’s Tech­nion-Is­rael In­sti­tute of Technology.

All the fel­lows re­gard Adams as a benev­o­lent grandpa, and will be happy in the years – un­til 120 – to come to re­port to him on their sci­en­tific progress.

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 ??  ?? MAR­CEL ADAMS doesn’t live in Is­rael, but his heart is in the coun­try’s sci­en­tific devel­op­ment. He shows his in­volve­ment via Adams Fel­low­ships.
MAR­CEL ADAMS doesn’t live in Is­rael, but his heart is in the coun­try’s sci­en­tific devel­op­ment. He shows his in­volve­ment via Adams Fel­low­ships.

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