(photo credit: AP [file])
When international gaming tycoon and philanthropist Sheldon Adelson was a boy in Boston, his family was so poor that his parents could not afford to send him or his three siblings to summer camp.
When they asked why they couldn't go, their mother told them it was because they were poor.
The following year, she told them they could go.
"Does that mean we're not poor any more?" the young Sheldon asked.
They were still poor, his mother replied, but the man who owned the grocery store near their house had decided to fund the expenses of all those children whose parents couldn't afford to send them to camp.
The memory of that generosity stayed with Adelson. The generous grocer went on to become a multimillionaire who gave to many causes.
Adelson spoke about his past on Sunday at a Taglit-birthright reception at Beit Hanassi, where he and his wife, Dr. Miriam Adelson, pledged to increase their donation this year from $30 million to $60m. - a million dollars for each year of the State of Israel.
"Mine is not a rags to riches story," said Adelson. "We were so poor we couldn't afford the rags."
The summer camp memory stayed with him, which is one of the reasons he said yes when Michael Steinhardt and Charles Bronfman asked him to join the Taglit-Birthright program. The program offers young Jews a week to 10 days in Israel and enables them to experience an intensive taste of Zionism, Jewish heritage, the camaraderie of fellow Jews and Israelis, and a sense of the need for Jewish continuity.
Many of the participants are from assimilated homes; some are from mixed marriages. But most fall in love with Israel and return to the US and elsewhere promising themselves that their first trip to Israel won't be the last.
When the Adelsons heard that some of the Taglit-Birthright applicants had been put on a waiting list, which was tantamount to being rejected, they decided that no one would be left out. They did away with the waiting lists by making more money available to pay the expenses of all those who applied.
Adelson said he and his wife would give at least $30m. a year for as long as is needed.
The Adelsons gave $25m. to Yad Vashem a few months ago.