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Philanthropist Pledges $5 Million to Enable More Birthright Participant

Casino mogul Sheldon Adelson and his wife, Miriam, will donate an estimated $5 million for 2,000 young adults to participate in a birthright israel trip, JTA has learned. The individuals are among the 20,000 to 40,000 who are on the waiting list for birthright, which provides free 10-day trips to Israel. The waiting list has grown for the popular program for college and post-college Jews because of insufficient funding.

The development comes amid speculation that Adelson is about to start a foundation that would give between $200 million and $250 million annually to Jewish causes and Israel.

Birthright officials would not comment on the gift, but the organization was set to announce it at its banquet Monday evening, according to sources close to the group.

Associates of Adelson have said that he is contemplating underwriting the entire birthright israel waiting list, but that deal is not yet in its final stages.

Adelson, the CEO of Las Vegas Sands Corp., which owns and operates the Sands and the Venetian Casino Resort in Las Vegas, seems to be positioning himself as one of the top American Jewish philanthropists.

The son of a Boston cab driver, Adelson, 74, first made the Forbes Fortune 400 list in 1995 after selling his computer trade-show company Comdex for more than $800 million.

After buying the Sands and taking it public, his wealth skyrocketed. Adelson, who is building a Vegas-like strip in Macao, China, is estimated to make $1 million an hour.

His publicist told JTA that he is expected to overtake Warren Buffet as the second wealthiest American sometime in the next year.

In November he and his wife, an Israeli-born doctor, gave $25 million to the Yad Vashem Holocaust Memorial in Israel. Adelson is also building a state-of-the-art, $25 million Jewish community high school in Las Vegas, where he lives. He has also built a Chabad center there.

Adelson, a major funder of Republican candidates, is also involved with the Anti-Defamation League and the American Israel Public Affairs Committee.

According to his longtime friend Arthur Marshall, the chairman of the Bank of Nevada, Adelson is fulfilling his dream by giving to Jewish causes.

“We were at an AIPAC meeting several years ago at the Venetian,” Marshall said. “The room was dark and quite filled, and Sheldon leaned over to me and said, ‘Art, at the end of my life, all of the money and hotels won’t mean anything to me. The only thing that will count is if I do something for my people.’ “

Birthright, which started providing free trips to Israel for Jews aged 18 to 25 in 2000, sent its 100,000th participant to the Jewish state this summer.

Started by philanthropists Michael Steinhardt and Charles Bronfman, the program has been jointly funded by private philanthropists, the Israeli government and the North American federation system.

But as its popularity grew, birthright has struggled to find enough funding for everyone who wanted to go.

“We have to get a lot bigger quicker if we hope to stem the tide” of declining Jewish identity in the Diaspora, Steinhardt told JTA this summer.

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