The Visionary Richest Woman in the Middle East

Shari Arison, billionaire ($2.7 by Forbes's most recent estimate), is 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. Arison, perhaps the richest woman in the Middle East, and a major force in Israeli philanthropy, claims that she can see the future.

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.

Arison writes in Birth: When the Material and Spiritual Come Together, “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 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.

"Here I am -- a woman, a businesswoman -- coming out with ideas that it is okay for a rabbi to have, or it is okay for a spiritual leader to have or an astrologist to have or whoever," Arison says, acknowledging that, for many people, the idea of a banker with a spiritual gift "is scary."

"And it is a shame because it should be quite the opposite. They were not scared with all the mortgage investments . . . and those were very rational business people, who all they cared about was profit, and look what happened. And here comes someone who says they want things to be vision-based, with values, with caring, with a sense of humanity, and people are scared."

For "true world peace, among all people, each one of us has to reach their own individual peace," Arison says in a video introduction to Essence of Life, which sponsors workshops and a Web site aimed at "bringing about a major shift in collective consciousness." She hopes that her Good Deeds Day initiative, which is up to 20,000 participants after its first few years, can go global with its message of setting aside one day a year to volunteer at a charity, paint a school or even just carry the groceries for a neighbor.

Arison recently invested $100 million to set up a water company, whose mission goes to one of Arison's chief worries, that water and other resource shortages will increase conflict around the world.

And she has not run willy-nilly into what would seem like a peacemaking Israeli capitalist's sweet spot -- investments in the Palestinian territories or joint ventures with Israeli Arabs with an emphasis on improving the Palestinian economy.

[The Washington Post]

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