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Sylvan Adams: Billionaire philanthropist showcasing the ‘real Israel’

The conflict does not define us, the Jewish state's unofficial ambassador says.

From left: Oct. 7 survivors Sharon Shevo and Avida Bachar, and philanthropist Sylvan Adams, hold posters of kidnapped Israelis from Kibbutz Be'eri as they embark on Adams's private jet en route to the Tour de France, June 2024. Photo by Amelie Botbol.
From left: Oct. 7 survivors Sharon Shevo and Avida Bachar, and philanthropist Sylvan Adams, hold posters of kidnapped Israelis from Kibbutz Be'eri as they embark on Adams's private jet en route to the Tour de France, June 2024. Photo by Amelie Botbol.

“The Israel I know and love, which is open, tolerant, pluralistic, fiercely democratic and safe, this country I moved to, is misunderstood abroad,” Sylvan Adams, billionaire philanthropist and co-owner of the Israel-Premier Tech cycling team, told JNS in Florence last week.

“People think we live in a conflict zone. The conflict is part of us but it does not define us,” he said.

Known as “Mr. Sports” for his tremendous investment in related events and infrastructure, Adams, who made aliyah from Canada in 2015, has taken it upon himself to promote the “real Israel” to the world. 

“The week I moved, I had business cards printed with my new title as self-appointed ‘Ambassador of Israel,’” he explained.

“My objective is to project Israel through a different lens to the silent majority, the sports fans who are apolitical, those who don’t really know us but if you press them they’d probably have a negative view of the country because of how it’s portrayed in the media,” Adams continued. 

In 2018, Adams brought to the Jewish state the three opening stages of the Giro d’Italia Grand Tour road cycling race, in what became the largest sporting event ever held in the country.

“I met the director of the Giro, Mauro Vegni. The three Grand Tours—the Tour De France, the Giro and the Vuelta a España—had never started outside of Europe. I took him on a trip to Israel, to places where Israeli cycling happens,” Adams said. 

“I wanted to show him that Israel is a safe country with a beautiful cycling culture, a normal Western democracy, the only one in the Middle East. In bringing the Giro, my idea was to reach hundreds of millions of people,” he added.

That many people indeed watched the riders kick off the race with a time trial in Jerusalem, and then stages spanning Haifa, Tel Aviv, Beersheva and Eilat, covering most of the length of the tiny state. 

“I wanted the team I was sponsoring, Israel-Premier Tech (called Israel Cycling Academy at the time) to participate in the Giro, step up to the next level and receive a wild card invitation. That’s when I became their main financial backer,” said Adams.

Sharon Shevo (left), Avida Bachar (right) and Sylvan Adams (behind Bachar) take part in a training session with the team ahead of the Tour de France. Credit: Israel-Premier Tech.

Passion project

Israel-Premier Tech is currently participating in its fifth Tour de France, which kicked off June 29 in Florence, Italy, and ends on July 21 in Nice.

The team was founded by Ron Baron in 2014. Its squad for the Tour features riders Pascal Ackermann (Germany), Guillaume Boivin (Canada), Jakob Fuglsang (Denmark), Derek Gee (Canada), Hugo Houle (Canada), Krists Neilands (Latvia), Jake Stewart (Britain) and Stevie Williams (Britain).

“The team became a passion project, but more than that, I wouldn’t have done it for a commercial team. We are one of only three to carry the name of a country,” Adams noted.

Adams invited to Florence Avida Bachar, from Kibbutz Be’eri, who lost his son, wife and one of his legs in the Oct. 7 Hamas invasion, and Sharon Shevo, also from Kibbutz Be’eri, who was wounded in the attack while riding his bicycle.

A group of young Israeli cyclists who survived the Oct. 7 assault on Kibbutz Nahal Oz also came to cheer on the team along with former IPT cyclist Guy Niv, who in 2020 became the first Israeli to participate in the Tour. 

As an unofficial ambassador, Adams has brought to Israel Lionel Messi and the Argentine national soccer team for an exhibition game, the French Super Cup and Madonna to the 2019 Eurovision Song Contest finals.

“It was a way to show Israel unvarnished, unbiased and uncensored, just the way we are,” he told JNS. 

Adams developed his attachment to Israel at a very young age. He grew up in Montreal, in a Zionist home, born to Romanian Holocaust survivors.

“My father escaped slave labor camps in 1944, took a boat from the Black Sea port of Constanta to Turkey and a train all the way to British Mandatory Palestine. He fought in Israel’s War of Independence and became an envoy for the state,” Adams recounted. “Because he spoke French, they sent him to North Africa to help the Jews prepare for aliyah. Eventually, he ended up in Canada.

“My mother remained in hiding during WWII,” he continued. “She took a boat to Mandatory Palestine in 1947, but was turned away by the British and ended up in an internment camp in Cyprus for six months. When the state was declared, she came back. Because of the heat, her family moved to Quebec and my parents met there through Romanian matchmaking.”

Adams first visited Israel when he was 10 or 11. Then, after graduating from university he traveled through Europe. When it started to get cold, he again visited the Jewish state, volunteering at Kibbutz Hatzor near Ashdod, where he met his wife, Margaret.

“About nine years ago, I came home after work and asked my wife what she thought about moving to Israel. We went on an adventure,” Adams said. 

Shortly thereafter, he convinced Tel Aviv Mayor Ron Huldai to build the Sylvan Adams Velodrome in 2018, jump-starting his investment in sports.

“I initiated the project and this year we are sending a velodrome athlete to the Paris Olympic Games,” said Adams.

Here to stay

Since Hamas’s Oct. 7 massacre of some 1,200 Israelis, Adams has pivoted slightly.

“I can’t bring big events to Israel at this point, although I’m planning to once the war is over. I will hold a massive tribute concert to the victims this coming Oct. 7. I would like to hold it in Kibbutz Re’im [near the site of the Supernova Music festival, where Hamas slaughtered 364 revelers],” Adams said. 

“It will be my gift to the country,” he added. 

After the disaster, Adams donated $100 million to Ben-Gurion University of the Negev in Beersheva, which he views as an economic engine of southern Israel. 

“To bring our people back and populate our south, we will need commercial activity. This is the largest donation I have ever made. I wanted it to be a shot in the arm of every Israeli, to make them feel good and tell the world that we are here to stay,” Adams told JNS. 

“Kibbutz Be’eri was the center of mountain biking in Israel. It’s all been destroyed. I promised that we’d rebuild those trails as well,” he continued.

“I built the first velodrome in the Middle East in Tel Aviv and I am thinking of building another one, this time in Beersheva. For kids to get back to their home in the south, they need things to do. We will do it in the south first and eventually we will do the same in the north,” said Adams.

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