“Who Are The Marcuses?” is an incredible life story about the wisdom of philanthropy, brought to light in one of the best documentaries, by director Matthew Mishory, from a far-sighted angle, a supportive and positive viewpoint for Israel.
An informative documentary that its best viewers, by far, should be those who, for any and all reasons, do not like or have no affinity for the state of Israel.
In life you may have a vision. But what is a vision without the luck that someone comes, like an angel, and lifts you up.
Israel should be recognized as an out of the box thinking country and when your countrymen are out of the box thinkers, you join the trend. I think that is what Lottie and Howard Marcus did when, in 2016, they joined this trend by donating nearly $500 million to Ben Gurion University (BGU) of the Negev, Israel. This charitable gift, so far the largest in the history of the state of Israel, was in fact an investment in the future of Israel and the spillover is the future of the entire world.
It is a remarkable documentary that profiles Lottie and Howard Marcus. The couple resided in a retirement village near the city of San Diego, California, and were not known in the world’s philanthropy circles.
The Jewish couple, both refugees from Hitler-Nazi Germany, had the good fortune to live a life within their means while saving their extra dollars. They put their money in the resourceful hands of people like Warren Buffett, the American business magnate, investor, and philanthropist, currently the chairman and CEO of Berkshire Hathaway.
The Marcus couple carefully made investments that grew into a fortune from which they willed a $500 million gift to Ben Gurion University, in southern Israel.
The goal of the donation was and is to seek peace through water, yes, through the most important element to life, water.
About The Director
Matthew Mishory, with impacting family roots in the state of Israel, was born in 1982 in Santa Monica, California where he grew up. He studied film at the University of California, Santa Barbara, and now is an American film director. In 2013 Variety Magazine named Mishory a “rising talent” and his award-winning 2009 film, Dolphinium, about Derek Jarman, an English artist, a filmmaker, costume designer, stage designer, writer, gardener, and gay rights activist, was preserved by the British Film Institute in its National Film Archives.
The “Who Are The Marcuses?” story was brought to his attention and since Mishory understands the plight of the Jewish people, before and after their return to the land of Israel, he felt that this story must be told for the benefit of the entire world’s perspective.
The 2023 Los Angeles Jewish Film Festival (LAJFF)
LAJFF, Hilary Helstein, Executive Director, selecting “Who Are The Marcuses?” to be screened during this year’s festival – Wednesday, May 17, 2023 to Tuesday May 23, 2023 – is a stunning winner. The film exposes Israel in the positive light it so well deserves and hardly receives; it gives the water subject a wide perspective for which Israel is a world leader.
Through a cinematic experience, at times even thought-provoking films, LAJFF’s mission is to build community awareness, appreciation and pride of the Jewish people and their rich and varied heritage; to create and maintain a sense of community by providing important and exciting programming for individuals, families and organizations and create programming that will educate its audience and promote the bright future of Jewish creativity.
The films LAJFF selects for screening help preserve and celebrate the rich tapestry of Jewish heritage while creating awareness of important societal issues and current events.
The “Who Are The Marcuses?” documentary is a universal masterclass in philanthropy, its meaning and outcome.
Theodor (Binyamin Ze’ev) Herzl, the father of Zionism, knew that the “Jewish problem” the world has had for centuries is not a social one. It is a national problem and it cannot be fixed by assimilation, rather it requires a national solution, meaning a state.
In 1897, in Herzl’s 1st Zionist Congress, in Basel, Switzerland, he believed he created the Jewish state. Herzl was certain that he was right and he wrote in his diary: “in five, ten at the very most fifty years, there is going to be a Jewish state.” If you take the year 1897 and you add 50 to it you get 1947, the year that the United Nations (UN) voted in favor to create a Jewish state, Israel.
Zionism, born out of the heartbreak of the Jewish people, is the national liberation movement of the Jewish people. Time and time again the Jews thought they would come home – to the land of Israel – and it only [sic] took 2000 years for that to happen.
Like all people, the Jewish people deserve to be responsible for their destiny and not depend on anyone else’s largesse; not to live tentatively and tenuously, hoping against hope that the warm welcome in someone’s else’s country does not change as it did in the past and there is no guarantee it will not happen again.
Zionism did not end when the modern state of Israel was created, it actually just began.
Theodore Herzl wrote two books that dealt with Zionism: “judenstaat” – its narrative, the world is a dangerous place especially for Jews and in 1902 the book “Altneuland,” the “old-new land,” where a critical mass of Jews live in the land of Israel and reinvent everything. Jews no longer escape the world, rather they are inspiring and in service of the world.
Zionism gave many Jews the sense of belonging to a story that is bigger than their own life. That sense of belonging gave people meaning. The Marcus’ were an example of such belonging, sense and meaning.
Since its establishment, Israel has given the world much food for thought. Focusing on creating a safe haven for your people where they can survive and flourish never means that you do not care about the outward concentric circles. The Jews came to Israel from the point of desperate desire to build a future. Now they have achieved this they can extend it to the rest of the world.
Zionism took dispersed Jews from all over the world and brought them to an ancient place that for them was new. It was said to them that now that you are here you have the opportunity to challenge all kinds of conventional wisdom. These Zionists started to think about methods to use water more efficiently.
The land of Israel is dry and the more Jews arrive to live there water consumption innovations are a priority. Water was a focal point since the beginning of modern Israel.
Water is a limited resource. Israel figured out that with more scientific knowledge there will be more water in the world so it became the source of knowledge for most of the world’s water problems.
David Ben Gurion, among the founders of modern Israel was a political and scientific visionary who famously said that “to be a realist in Israel you have to believe in miracles.”
Ben Gurion Knew Water Innovations Will Fix a Society
Already in the early 1950s Ben Gurion instructed to build a pipeline – Israel’s national water carrier (Ha’movil Ha’artzi), the main water source for the entire country – to bring water from the Lake of Galilee-Kinneret in the north, to the center of Israel and the Negev in order to make the desert bloom.
Israel took it a step further and invented technologies that create water out of nothing, out of thin air. They create usable water from the sea in the desalination process and treat sewage water to be used in agriculture, for example.
Today Israel is the 2nd lowest in the world in water lost to leaks, approximately 9% in total, with the goal to bring it down to 5% in the next few years. Israel’s water management approach is that if the country can save a percent or two of water from leaks it means one less desalination plant to build.
Israel is also leading the world in water consumption efficiency.
Israel reclaims, recycles and puts into productive use 85% of its waste water. The country to follow Israel’s steps is Spain with 18% water recycling. The gap is enormous. The world is asleep at the wheel until a catastrophe occurs.
At present Israel is thriving to have reclaimed water drinkable. The country will have fresh water, desalinated sea water, reclaimed-wastewater at its disposal to never be short of water.
Because of all of the things mentioned herein, Israel, a country located in a rather inimical environment, is water secure. Water security leads to food security.
Who Made The Fortune For The Marcuses?
Benjamin (Ben) Graham, who was Howard Marcus’s patient, dubbed the “father of value investing.” Graham became mentor to Warren Buffett, an American business magnate, investor, and philanthropist and currently the chairman and CEO of Berkshire Hathaway.
It all took place in the right era and in the United States. With Graham’s advice and recommendation Warren Buffett became the custodian of Marcus’s modest savings. The Marcuses invested in the stock market according to Graham’s investment’s philosophy, to buy and hold it for their lifetime.
The Marcuses Ben Gurion Endowment
European immigrants, Holocaust survivors, built upper middle class lives all over the United States and built untold accumulated wealth. The Marcus’ were among them.
It is fair to say that taking into account all the elements of where the state of Israel is located, there was a slim chance for this state to survive or endure.
When the Marcus’ arrived to visit Israel they saw a bright picture. It was not just a country, it was a miracle in the making. They believed Israel is where the future of the Jewish people is guaranteed. After the Holocaust the land was the salvation for the Jews and their homeland and thus they believed in supporting the state. Their main goal was to help in the sustainability of the Jewish state and they felt strongly that the future of Israel greatly lies in the vast desert region.
This documentary proves that their vision was correct.
The Marcus’ understood the vulnerability of Jews, the disaster of a conflict and a refugee flow phenomenon. Howard Marcus, a dentist by profession and a visionary, often pondered what he may be able to do to bring peace. He also understood that environmental harm, in particular water scarcity, could become a cause for a conflict. In the years to come the near $500 million gift the Marcus’s made will certainly assume even more importance.
Reclaiming Water Can Lead To Peace
Hate makes a waste of lives.
The Marcus’ chose Ben Gurion University water research as their philanthropic focus. They believed that solving the Middle East’s water problem would bring about peace.
Israel has certainly shown the world that the use of water can be a cooperation and coexistence tool that can even lead to peace. From knowledge to water and then to diplomacy. Israel will not only end its water shortage, it will also end poverty and increase diplomatic ties in the Middle East.
The Abraham Accords agreement is the witness to that point of view.
Water cooperation and coordination in the region is improving and water must be kept beyond a conflict. When addressing the water issue and managing it properly you avoid a conflict. On November 22, 2021 Israel and Jordan signed a declaration of intent for a water-for-energy deal and Israel supplies Gaza with water daily, even when the rockets and missiles are fired from Gaza into Israel.
Ellen Marcus and Philip Gomperts The Cause of The $500 Million Gift
Howard and Lottie Marcus did not intentionally accumulate wealth, but having done it, needless to say, gave them great pleasure to give it away to a good cause.
Ellen, the sole heir of her parents’ estate knew nothing about how Howard and Lottie Marcus accumulated wealth. When she found out their wealth reached $200 million, all Ellen wanted from them was to leave her and her daughter enough money so they were not hungry or homeless.
The rest she suggested her parents give away to what will be meaningful to them. The Marcus’ decided to give a hefty contribution to Ben Gurion University in Israel.
Philip Gomperts, former regional director, Americans for Ben-Gurion University and a major fundraiser, was a friend of Howard and Lottie Marcus since 1997. They considered Philip to be the son they never had.
Howard Marcus wanted to help build Israel and Philip guided him. By the time the Marcuses passed away, their wealth reached half a billion dollars. Philip suggested to the university that the gifted money will be put into an interest yielding fund from which the university can enjoy some $20 million each year to use as needed. And that is what was done.
Philanthropy Is The Art of Giving
Howard and Lottie Marcus should be a role model to other philanthropists to do a world of good. Money put into action in the right way can definitely make the world a much better place and can change life for the better in so many ways. Private philanthropy has done so much to better our world already but philanthropy actions can certainly do so much more and with greater impact.
One can say that when you give a Tzedakah, the Hebrew word for “righteousness that signifies charity,” even if it is a one dollar donation, you satisfy your soul. So if you pledge part of your wealth that you worked hard for to a cause that pleasures your soul, you have doubled your success.
The Marcuses turned money into meaning. It was not about their wealth, it was about the Jewish people’s wealth. And the Jewish people are not about the Jewish people, rather, about humanity. That is how we should understand Marcus’ $500 million donation to Ben Gurion University.
Israelis are perhaps among the world’s greatest scientists who have a vision to create a better future for our world.
The question at the end must be, will all the innovations coming out of Israel bring peace, at least to Israel, reduce worldwide Antisemitism, and make the world a better place to live as Israel thrives to make it?
Follow The Wisdom
“Who Are The Marcuses?” next screening will be on June 8th, 2023, in Balboa Park, San Diego, California, at the Blue Water film festival. Find it here: Blue Water Film Festival.