Arecord pledge by a Jewish multi-billionaire has raised the ante for other Jewish philanthropists in the United States, but the exact affect on Jewish communal life of Sheldon Adelson’s gift won’t be determined for several years, according to experts.
Adelson, a 73-year-old Las Vegas casino and resort owner whom Fortune magazine named the third-richest American last year, and his wife Miriam, will establish on Jan. 1 a foundation that will give $200 million a year to Jewish causes, Haaretz reported last week. The amount dwarfs the totals given by other Jewish philanthropists in this country.
The most recent gift was announced Monday night at the birthright Israel gala dinner in New York when Susie Gelman, the chair of the evening, told the audience that the Adelsons were contributing approximately $5 million to birthright. This will allow about 2,000 young people (between the ages of 18 and 26) who had been on a waiting list for birthright trips this winter to go to Israel, as early as next week.
A member of the Republican Jewish Coalition board of directors and of the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Council, and a supporter of the Anti-Defamation League and American Israel Public Affairs Committee, Adelson joins the ranks of major Jewish philanthropists who have directed a large proportion of their giving outside the established network of Jewish federations. They include Michael Steinhardt and Charles Bronfman, founders of birthright israel, Lynn Schusterman, a major contributor to Hillel and other projects for young people, and Ronald Lauder, whose independent foundation works to revitalize Jewish life in Eastern Europe.
Michael Bohnen, a Boston attorney with extensive experience and connections in the Jewish community, will serve as the yet-unnamed foundation’s director of Jewish philanthropy, the Haaretz article stated.
“I have no doubt that like all Jewish foundations they will be flooded with requests from people who want to help spend their largesse,” said Jonathan Sarna, professor of American Jewish history at Brandeis University.
Adelson and Bohnen were to announce details of the new enterprise this week. Neither could be reached by The Jewish Week.The creation of Adelson’s foundation follows the announcement in June that investor Warren Buffett pledged $31 billion to the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. In the Jewish community, Ronald Stanton’s gift of $100 million to Yeshiva University this year was believed to be until now the largest philanthropic act in the U.S. for Jewish life and education.
If the $200 million annual figure attributed to the Adelsons is accurate, it will exceed the $98 million given away last year by the Weinberg Foundation, much of it to Jewish recipients, and the $33 million given by the Avi Chai Foundation. Adelson’s gift will reverse the trend of wealthy American Jews who have given most of their philanthropy in recent decades to non-Jewish causes, and will set a higher standard for notable donations to Jewish causes, Sarna said.
“It does change the face” of Jewish philanthropy, he observed. “We have heard a great deal of how Jewish philanthropists were giving 80 percent of their money to non-Jewish causes,” adding that a gift of Adelson’s scope encourages other Jews of means to follow his example. “It offers a model for people who are contemplating what to do with their fortune.”
Yediot Achronot reported that Adelson, identified as the “world’s wealthiest Jew,” gave $25 million in October to Yad Vashem, a record amount from an individual to the Holocaust memorial center in Jerusalem.
The affect of Adelson’s philanthropy will not be known until the details of his foundation’s activities become clear, said David Mersky, lecturer in Jewish philanthropy and fundraising at Brandeis. “We don’t know yet.”
A native of Boston, Adelson established in 1979 the Comdex computer trade show, which he sold in 1995 for $860 million. Forbes estimates his net worth as $20.5 billion. According to Haaretz, Adelson will bankroll the construction of a Jewish high school in Las Vegas, the first in the Nevada city whose Jewish community has been the fastest-growing in the U.S. over the past decade.