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Philanthropists Announce $5 Million Donation to Birthright

Philanthropists Miriam and Sheldon Adelson announce $5 million gift to Birthright Israel which brings young Jews to Israel for ten days.
By Elad Benari
First Publish: 7/27/2011, 12:12 AM / Last Update: 7/27/2011, 6:12 AM

Adelsons at a Birthright reception
Adelsons at a Birthright reception
Brian Freedman/Birthright Israel

Philanthropists Dr. Miriam and Sheldon G. Adelson announced on Tuesday a new $5 million 2011 challenge gift to the Birthright Israel Foundation, as part of their ongoing commitment to fund the free, ten-day educational trips of Taglit-Birthright Israel for Jewish young adults.

Taglit-Birthright Israel offers the gift of a free, ten-day trip to Israel for Jewish adults between the ages of 18 to 26. The trip aims to strengthen each participant’s identity as a Jew; to build an understanding, friendship and lasting bond with the land and people of Israel; and to reinforce the solidarity of the Jewish people worldwide.

In the decade since its inception, Taglit-Birthright Israel has brought over 250,000 Jewish young adults to Israel from over 50 countries, from all 50 U.S. states and all Canadian provinces and territories, including students at nearly 1,000 North American college campuses.

Taglit-Birthright Israel is a partnership between the Government of Israel, private philanthropists and Jewish communities around the world (the Jewish Federations of North America, the Jewish Agency for Israel and Keren Hayesod).

In all, the Adelson Family Foundation has contributed over $100 million to Birthright Israel since 2007.

“I have always said that I don’t think there has been a better Jewish program in my lifetime than Birthright Israel,” Sheldon Adelson said on Tuesday. “I haven’t talked to a young adult who returned from a Birthright Israel trip who didn’t say ‘it changed my life.’”

“We continue to be amazed by the profound impact the trip has on thousands and thousands of young people,” Dr. Miriam Adelson added. “It is changing an entire generation.”

The Adelsons share the desire of the founders of Birthright Israel Foundation to help the organization transition from one funded solely by philanthropists to one which has broad grassroots support of the North American Jewish community. To that end, the announced gift will serve as a matching grant, which essentially will double gifts from new donors, increased gifts from current donors or new designated gifts through Federations.

“The Adelsons are a pillar of Taglit-Birthright Israel,” said International CEO of Taglit-Birthright Israel, Gidi Mark. “In recent years, Miriam and Sheldon have been unstinting supporters of our initiative. The magnitude of their giving is unprecedented and their engagement and support of the project is moving .They are profoundly committed to this program and to the idea that every Jewish young adult should be able to visit Israel, that there should be no wait lists for young Jews who wish to connect to their Jewish roots in Israel. They changed the lives of a whole generation.”

Robert P. Aronson, president of the Birthright Israel Foundation, thanked the Adelsons for their contribution, saying, “The Jewish people owe the Adelsons a debt of gratitude. Their ongoing generosity has enabled tens of thousands of young adults, whom we otherwise could not have sent, to experience the life-changing journey of a Taglit-Birthright Israel trip.”

The Adelson challenge will help promote Birthright Israel’s goal of increasing participant numbers – from 30,000 a year today to 51,000 annually by 2013, almost doubling the number of young adults able to go on the Taglit-Birthright Israel trip. Reaching this new record number of participants would mean that one of every two young Jewish adults would be able to participate. 

This past January, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu announced an increase in the budget for Birthright. The government will provide NIS 90 million for the program in 2013, with further increases to NIS 120 million and NIS 140 million in the following two years. During its first ten years of existence, Israel’s government spent about NIS 100 million altogether on Taglit.

In May, at a reception for Birthright Israel’s most generous donors in New York City, Adelson told the story of his parents who had always wanted to travel to Israel, but could not afford it. Eventually, Adelson was able to cover the cost of his parents’ trip, but by then they were unable to travel and, in the end, passed away without visiting Israel.

“I made a promise that I would do everything I could to help any young person who wanted to visit Israel to be able to do so,” Adelson said.