Shari Arison is the richest woman in Israel, and #308 on the new Forbes list of the world’s billionaires released last week, but that didn’t stop her from turning up in the lobby of the Sofitel in downtown Washington D.C. early Sunday morning sporting the least posh item of clothing known to humanity: a black fanny pack.
It was the finishing touch on a uniform that included black pants, black boots, and a white jacket over a T-shirt emblazoned with the orange-red-and-purple logo for Good Deeds Day, a worldwide initiative started six years ago by Arison, the daughter of Carnival Cruise Lines founder Ted Arison and sister of the company’s current head, Miami Heat owner Micky Arison. She was in Washington to look in on 3,000 volunteers making sandwiches for the needy at the city’s JCC, the largest single turnout expected across the country after a marketing push that included a volunteer fair Saturday in Times Square.
This year’s events coincided with the release of Arison’s new book, Activate Your Goodness, a follow-up to her 2009 book Birth: When Spiritual and Material Come Together, in which she wrote at length about her ability to receive mysterious communications “from above.”
The new volume, blurbed by Bill Clinton and Deepak Chopra, starts with a series of negative scenes: being left with her nanny Marie by her workaholic parents, being unloved by her Romanian-born mother for being too American and teased by her classmates in New York for being too Israeli, getting lost traveling alone through the Amsterdam airport. “I have been hurt, I have had trials and tribulations, but I believe that things can be different,” Arison, who has been married and divorced three times, wrote. “I have faith that we can create the healthy, positive environment we want for ourselves, our children, and our planet.”
“It doesn’t need to be volunteering,” Arison told me brightly over bottles of Evian. “It can be a smile that brightens someone’s day.” It is, she explained, a more practical version of the Transcendental Meditation principles promoted by, among others, the filmmaker David Lynch, who has spent millions underwriting “peace palaces” on the theory that a critical mass of meditators can, among other things, bring peace to the Middle East.
“I think most spiritual people come to the same conclusion,” Arison said. “I’m a practical person, so I connect to spirituality in a way that does good in ways people can see.” That includes things like investing in urban water reclamation projects around the world, including one in Manila, where, Arison excitedly told me, 30 percent more people could be served just by improving the management of water utilities. The one area she had no use for, she said, was politics. “I stay away totally,” she told me.
But that didn’t stop her from inviting Israel’s president, Shimon Peres, to open Israel’s Good Deeds Day festivities in a ceremonial capacity this year, or from appearing later Sunday night in Los Angeles at a gala benefit for the nonprofit Israeli Leadership Council at the Beverly Hilton. “We’re taking advantage of the time difference,” Arison said. From Beverly Hills she’ll go to Laguna Beach, Aspen and then to the Arison family seat in Miami, where she plans to spend Passover. “I’m starting my vacation, but combining vacation with work,” she said. Because, she went on, “We need to create more good.”