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Sun-Sentinel Interviews Ellen Marcus on Historic Gift

Sun-Sentinel Interviews Ellen Marcus on Historic Gift

March 28, 2024

Desert & Water Research

Ellen Marcus with Warren Buffett at a screening of “Who Are The Marcuses?”

South Florida Sun-Sentinel – “Who are the Marcuses?” was one of the featured films at the Palm Beach Jewish Film Festival. The film, featuring Warren Buffett, reveals the remarkable story of one family: Howard, Lottie and their daughter, Ellen Marcus. Howard and Lottie changed the future with the single largest donation ever made to the State of Israel by endowing their substantial wealth to Ben-Gurion University of the Negev (BGU) with a clear objective of advancing the study of water management.

Ellen, who serves as Vice Chair on BGU’s Board of Governors recalls their advisor saying, “My parents’ estate was worth about $200 million. I almost fell off my chair! I had NO idea! Who needs $200 million? I didn’t want to have to manage $200 million when I was eager to retire. My parents already had a very close personal relationship with Philip Gomperts, the former Director of the Southern California region of Americans for Ben-Gurion University (A4BGU), BGU, and had already made at least one substantial donation for water research there. It was an easy decision for them to decide where to leave their money.” Ellen notes “Because of that gift, the main campus in Beer-Sheva was to be named in my parents’ honor. My father insisted that I be included in the campus name, which is now known as the Marcus Family Campus.”

Ellen highlights a few examples of how BGU benefits from the Marcuses’ gift, “The way my parents structured their gift is unique in that only 10% of the annual distributions must be used for water research. The remaining 90% of the funds are available for the University president to spend as he/she deems appropriate. This gives the president the ability to direct the funds where they are most needed. Because of this, BGU has been able to fund the development of another campus currently named the “North Campus” which will double the size of the University’s footprint in Beer-Sheva and fund many valuable projects which had been on the president’s wish list for many years. One such project is the atomic clock. Professor Ron Folman has completed building the prototype of the first optical frequency lattice atomic clock in Israel.”

Ellen also noted to the Sun Sentinel that “one of BGU’s tag lines is, ‘From the desert for the world’. The Endowment has funded research projects that have real-world applications, some immediate and some long-term. Who would have guessed in 2004 when my parents made their bequest to BGU that water scarcity would become the ‘tip of the spear’ of climate change? But it has. BGU has been the world’s leader in water research for many years.”

What Ellen hopes the audiences takes away from seeing the film is for “viewers to learn about my parents, the history of water research in Israel, about BGU, and about the importance of philanthropy.”

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