Billionaire Adelson receiving Zionism's top award

AP News
Posted: Dec 11, 2009 1:31 PM

Billionaire casino-resort developer Sheldon Adelson has been given a rare Zionism award for a lifetime of supporting Jewish causes.

The 76-year-old chief executive of Las Vegas Sands Corp. was expected to accept the Theodor Herzl Gold Medallion from the Zionist Organization of America during a dinner on Sunday in New York. The expected guests include Israel Deputy Prime Minister Moshe Yaalon.

Adelson _ worth $9 billion at the end of September, according to a list compiled by Forbes _ is being recognized for influencing Jews worldwide and his relationship with Israel, a country founded 15 years after he was born.

"In my life, I've never met a person as committed to Israel" as Adelson, said Morton Klein, president of the group presenting the award for the first time since 1987, when then-Israeli prime minister Yitzhak Shamir accepted it.

Adelson is the 18th person to receive the Herzl medallion, named for the founder of modern Zionism, since the group was established in 1897.

Its past recipients include Winston Churchill, Harry Truman and four former Israeli prime ministers.

Adelson said his lifelong philanthropic efforts have grown along with his successes as a businessman, allowing him to give more money and persuade others to donate.

"I used to give hundreds or thousands, now I give tens or hundreds of millions, or even billions," Adelson told The Associated Press. "It changes quite a bit when you add a lot more zeros."

Adelson and his wife, Miriam, have majority control of Sands, the Las Vegas-based casino operator that owns two resorts on the Las Vegas Strip and others in Macau, the Chinese gambling enclave. The company lost $123 million in the third quarter, and has struggled the past two years under billions in debt and a souring gambling economy.

Adelson's net worth _ largely tied to his stake in Sands _ tumbled $19 billion in the past two years, as Forbes dropped him on its list from the third richest man in the world to the 26th richest American.

The Adelsons infused personal cash into the company last year to help keep it from folding and since then, Sands has raised more capital and worked on opening more resorts in Asia and elsewhere.

Sands' struggles have meant Adelson has had to donate less than in previous years and not take on new commitments, he said.

Adelson said his drive to give stems from a childhood promise to his father, a taxi driver with a sixth-grade education whom Adelson watched collect pocket change in a charity box to give away.

Adelson said his father made him promise that he, too, would give away part of his daily earnings.

"I loved my father dearly, and I wanted to do whatever he wanted me to do," Adelson said. "Now I don't put money in every day, but when I put money in I make up for each day."

Zionism is the effort of Jews to regain and retain their biblical homeland, based on the promise of God in the Book of Genesis that Israel would forever belong to Abraham and his descendants as a nation. The term is named for Mount Zion, the site of the ancient temple in Jerusalem. The Bible also frequently uses Zion in a general sense to denote the place where God is especially present with his people.

The Adelsons' efforts include establishing drug clinics in Israel and the United States. Miriam Adelson is a doctor with expertise in drug rehabilitation. She is scheduled to accept a different award at Sunday's dinner.

Adelson also owns news agency Israel Today, and the Adelsons have given more than $90 million to Birthright Israel, a group that sends young adult Jews from the United States and other countries on 10-day trips to Israel.

"He's really helped produce a cadre of young people, young leaders here in America of being committed to the state of Israel," Klein said.

Adelson said he supports that effort in part to encourage the continuity of the Jewish people.

(This version CORRECTS Corrects guest in second graf.)