Adelson family withdrawing most of its support from Birthright Israel
The Adelson family is pulling its money out of Birthright, forcing deep cutbacks in the popular program that brings tens of thousands of young Jewish adults to Israel each year on free 10-day trips.
According to figures obtained by Haaretz, the Adelson Family Foundation has reduced its annual gift to Birthright from an average of $35 million to $40 million to just $20 million in 2022. It has notified the program directors that its annual gift for 2023 will be only half that sum — $10 million.
The Adelson family has been the single largest donor to Birthright over the past 15 years, contributing an estimated half billion dollars to the program during this time. The drop in funding began after the death of casino magnate Sheldon Adelson nearly two years ago.
The Massachusetts-based Adelson Family Foundation did not respond to a request for comment about the cutbacks. Considered one of the most successful Jewish Diaspora projects of all times, Birthright has brought an estimated 800,000 young Jewish adults to Israel since its inception in 1999.
The figures obtained by Haaretz show that gifts from other donors will also be down next year, though not as sharply. Altogether, Birthright’s budget next year will total just over $100 million – a 25 percent drop from this year.
This sharp decline in funding comes at a time when the organization’s expenses have skyrocketed because of the rising costs of airline tickets, hotels in Israel and other travel services. Consequently, Birthright announced on Monday that barring a major reversal in fundraising trends, it will have no choice but to cut the number of participants it will bring to Israel in 2023 by one-third.
“The significant cost increases of our program mean that we will not be able to accommodate as many applicants in the coming years, and we know that those who miss out on a Birthright trip are unlikely to travel to Israel at all,” Birthright Israel CEO Gidi Mark said in a statement issued by the organization.
“There has never been a more critical need for Birthright Israel than now,” he added. “Without a major immediate increase in fundraising, we will be hard-pressed to have the positive effect we’ve had on many individuals – and that will inevitably impact American Jewish organizations that are used to seeing enthusiastic young adults return from Israel and take major roles in the Jewish community.”
The statement made no mention of the projected drop in donations from the Adelson family and others next year. Asked whether the organization had received explanations about why the Adelson family was withdrawing much of its financial support, a Birthright spokesman did not respond.
According to the figures obtained by Haaretz, gifts from all other private donors are expected to drop by 25 percent next year to $43 million. Because the government of Israel has a grant-matching agreement with the other donors, its allocation is also projected to drop next year.
The Birthright statement said the organization expected to bring 35,000 program participants to Israel in 2022, but that their number could drop to 23,500 next year if additional funding were not found. Expenses, it said, had risen 30 percent so that the cost of bringing each participant was now up to $4,500.
Birthright has always been the single largest gift recipient of the Adelson Family Foundation. Sheldon Adelson’s widow Miriam, who is estimated to be worth close to $30 billion, now determines grantmaking policy on her own.
Under the coalition agreement signed by Israel’s outgoing government, responsibility for Birthright was supposed to have been transferred from the Prime Minister’s Office to the Ministry of Diaspora Affairs. Miriam Adelson intervened to prevent the move.