The Adelson family, led by the late Sheldon Adelson’s wife, Miriam, is making deep cuts in support for the Birthright program. The family’s foundation is reportedly cutting its contribution in half this year and will only contribute about $20 million to the program. The organization fully funds 10-day group trips to Israel for Jewish young adults between the ages of 18 and 26. The Adelsons have given the initiative a total of more than $500 million since its creation and has been the single largest contributor.
Because of the drop in funding, the organization, which had a budget of approximately $150 million, is cutting the number of participants it funds by one-third. The organization is expecting to underwrite about 23,500 trips in 2023, which is a sizable drop from the pre-pandemic level of operations in 2019, when 35,000 participants were provided trips to Israel.
Miriam Adelson has generally supported the program with an annual contribution of $35 to $40 million. Next year, however, the family is only expected to contribute $10 million to the Birthright Israel Foundation. Miriam Adelson pointed out that her family has “invested profoundly” over the years and now it is time for “others to step up.”
“We’re creating space for others to commit, to recommit, or increase their commitment,” she said. “Birthright is not an Adelson family investment. It is an investment in us all, in our collective, communal future.”
The ambitious Birthright program has generally been credited with building a greater sense of appreciation for the Jewish state, along with building a stronger Jewish identity and creating a stronger commitment to Jewish continuity.
Birthright CEO Israel Tapoohi told the website, eJewishPhilanthropy, that the organization first began discussing the Adelson decision to cut back support six years ago. Tapoohi described it as an effort to broaden the organization base of support.
“We believe Birthright Israel is an endeavor that the whole Jewish community benefits from, and everyone needs to contribute to its success.”
The projected drop in trips was said to have been discussed in a board meeting of the organization on Nov. 29. Not only has Birthright had to deal with the drop in funding, but it has also had to deal with inflation and escalating travel costs.
In addition to rising expenses, the Birthright Foundation has merged its 10-day trips and its longer Birthright Excel Fellowships with a program originally created by the Jewish Agency for Israel. Since January, the Foundation has taken over the longer internship program of Onward Israel, which has provided immersive living and learning internships for 11,000 Jewish young adults from the United States and other countries.
Over the years, Miriam Adelson, who is said to have inherited a personal fortune of more than $40 billion when her husband passed away two years ago, has been joined by several other important Jewish philanthropists. Among them were wealthy investors Michael Steinhardt and Charles Bronfman and the co-founder of Home Depot, Bernie Marcus. Since 1999, they have helped to provide an estimated 800,000 free trips for Jewish young persons.
Marcus has undertaken a new initiative in recent years to provide a program in Israel for tenth-, eleventh-, and twelfth-grade American students. His RootOne program was projected to bring about 7,000 teens to Israel this year for three-week stays. The work is supported with a $60 million, three-year grant from the Marcus Family Foundation. Unlike the Birthright program, the high school students are expected to pay for part of the trip themselves.
While giving in Israel by Marcus and Adelson has remained high over the years and Jewish support for Israel continues to be robust, recent studies have shown an overall decline in support. In a report online in the Times of Israel in July of this year, Hanna Shaul Bar Nissim, a post-doctoral fellow at Brandeis University, noted research there has shown that Jewish giving to Israel has been on the decline since 2009. She blames the trend on several factors.
“I believe that several factors, including demographic and social changes, a diminished perception of Israel as being in need and concerns over the Palestinian-Israeli conflict have probably been driving the decline for years. More recently,” she continued, “Israel’s increasingly conservative policies on social and religious issues, which are often at odds with what most American Jews support, might also be playing a role.”
At the same time, Israel, which has had strong economic growth in recent years, has stepped up philanthropic giving in the country. According to a study underwritten by the government there and done at Tel Aviv University, charitable giving in Israel increased by 43 percent between 2009 and 2015 and homegrown philanthropy was responsible for one-third of the donations there.
- Bob Bahr
- Sheldon Adelson
- Miriam Adelson
- Birthright Israel Foundation
- Israel Tapoohi
- Excel Fellowships
- Jewish Agency for Israel
- Onward Israel
- Michael Steinhardt
- Charles Bronfman
- Home Depot
- Bernie Marcus
- Marcus Family Foundation
- Brandeis University
- Hanna Shaul Bar Nissim
- Tel Aviv University