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The Story Behind the Marcus’ Historic Gift to BGU

The Story Behind the Marcus’ Historic Gift to BGU

March 17, 2023

Desert & Water Research, Natural Sciences

San Diego Jewish World — Documentary filmmaker, Matthew Mishory, has done a deep dive into the background of a San Diego couple who lived quietly, scrimped to such a point that they even reused their paper towels, and through their daughter made the largest philanthropic donation to Israel in the history of the Jewish state: $500 million.

Who Are the Marcuses? tells the story of Dr. Howard and Lottie Marcus and their daughter Ellen, who decided that learning how to make water plentiful was one way to promote peace in the thirsty Middle East.

Among the friends Howard made was Ben Graham, author of The Intelligent Investor.  Graham recommended to Howard that he look up, and perhaps go into business, with one of his mentees, the investor Warren Buffett.

Warren Buffett and Ellen Marcus, daughter of the late Holocaust survivors Lottie and Howard Marcus, attend the Omaha Film Festival screening of “Who Are the Marcuses?” on March 9 at Aksarben Cinema in Omaha.

On the suggestion of Ellen Barnett of Rancho Bernardo (herself a philanthropist who has a lake named for her at the Biblical Zoo in Jerusalem), Philip Gomperts, a regional director of Americans for Ben-Gurion University (A4BGU), approached the Marcuses, telling them about the importance of water research.

Lottie and Howard Marcus.

Chief Executive Officer of A4BGU, Doug Seserman, called the Marcuses “humble visionaries who saw the importance of water research not only as vital to Israel’s self-sufficiency but as a strategy to achieve peace through shared natural resources.”

When they agreed to make a donation of stock holdings, the amount was worth approximately $200 million. However, the value of the stocks went up and up, so that by the time the stocks were transferred to Ben-Gurion University, located in Beer Sheva, Israel, the largest city in the Negev Desert, their worth was $500 million.

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