(March 15, 2018 / Embassy of Israel in Washington, D.C.) Dr. Howard and Lottie Marcus of San Diego were blessed with very long lives. Howard died at the age of 104 in 2014, and Lottie died in 2015 at the age of 99. Their deaths did not preclude them from causing quite a stir a few months later. In June 2016, Ben-Gurion University of the Negev announced shocking news. The Marcus estate had gifted a sum of $400 million to the university. This incredible sum more than doubled the university’s endowment overnight and was the largest charitable gift ever bestowed upon an Israeli institution, academic or otherwise.
The importance of Israel to Howard and Lottie and what it represents, as the sole Jewish state in the world, goes back to their flight from Nazi Germany in the 1930s. Both Howard and Lottie lost almost their entire family in the horrors of the Holocaust, and were intent that their gift go towards helping educate young Jews.
They met after the war in New York; Lottie working as a secretary on Wall Street and Howard as a dentist. The Marcuses made their fortune through none other than Warren Buffet. Befriending him in the early 1960s, the Marcuses joined his investment partnership, amassing an enormous fortune in the process. Despite their financial success, they lived modestly in a middle-class neighborhood in Great Neck, N.Y., and retired to a one-bedroom apartment in San Diego. Described as warm and friendly, they barely touched their fortune.
The Marcuses first became involved with Ben-Gurion University in the late 1990s. They were particularly enthralled by the university’s work in desalination and advanced irrigation of desert environments. They believed that solving the region’s problem of water scarcity would be an important step toward a lasting peace. A large portion of Howard and Lottie’s gift to the university is dedicated to the Zuckerberg Institute for Water Research at the university, which studies sustainable water usage and desalination, among other important research areas.
Amazingly, Howard and Lottie’s donation to Ben-Gurion University represented almost the entirety of their estate. Consistent with the manner in which they lived their lives, they viewed what they had earned as something to modestly hold onto, until the time was right to give back to the Jewish homeland and its people.