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Warren Buffett attends Omaha Film Festival screening of documentary on largest-ever gift to Israel

He has described “Who Are the Marcuses?” as “a wonderful film recounting the remarkable tale of Israel, water and philanthropy.”

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?” at Aksarben Cinema in Omaha, Neb, on on March 9, 2023. Credit: Courtesy of Americans for Ben-Gurion University.
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?” at Aksarben Cinema in Omaha, Neb, on on March 9, 2023. Credit: Courtesy of Americans for Ben-Gurion University.

Omaha-based business magnate and philanthropist Warren Buffett attended the Omaha Film Festival’s screening of “Who Are the Marcuses?” on March 9, a feature documentary that reveals the mystery behind a couple who made the largest-ever charitable donation to an institution based in Israel.

The film reconstructs the lives of Holocaust survivors Lottie and Howard Marcus, an unassuming couple from Great Neck, N.Y., with a passion for Ben-Gurion University of the Negev (BGU), the southern Israeli institution whose innovation inspires peace and climate action through water technology and more.

The Marcuses retired to a modest two-bedroom apartment in San Diego. Former dentist Howard passed away in 2014 at the age of 104, and Lottie died less than two years later, in 2015.

The film simultaneously traces the development of Israel’s vital water technology from pre-state to the present; how the Marcuses’ $500 million gift in 2016 has ensured continued leading-edge development in water science for not only the Israeli people but the world as a whole; sets the family’s gift in geopolitical context; and explores both its impact and implications for regional peace through technology exchange. The film features Buffett, Israel’s President Isaac Herzog, historian Daniel Gordis and best-selling philosopher Micah Goodman—all in the backdrop of an original score by internationally renowned Israeli singer-songwriter David Broza, who is also a peace activist.

Buffett has described the documentary as “a wonderful film recounting the remarkable tale of Israel, water and philanthropy.”

“The Marcuses were 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. Their transformative generosity will be felt for generations to come,” says Doug Seserman, CEO of Americans for Ben-Gurion University (A4BGU), which raises awareness for BGU across the United States by showcasing the institution’s academic excellence and groundbreaking research through educational programs and events, as well as other initiatives.

Before its Omaha Film Festival screening at Aksarben Cinema, the film made its sold-out world premiere at the Newport Beach Film Festival in California last October and went on to screen at the U.N. climate change conference COP27 in Sharm El Sheikh, Egypt; and the Santa Barbara International Film Festival. From Omaha, the film is continuing its festival journey around America.

“Who Are the Marcuses?” explores a number of foundational questions surrounding the historic donation, including Who were these virtually unknown philanthropists who had never publicly revealed their wealth or intentions? How did they accumulate millions by getting in on the early days of the greatest financial-services empire ever built? What compelled them and their daughter Ellen to give it all away? And why were the Marcuses so captivated by the issue of water scarcity and BGU?

“This film is the blueprint for existing and future technological solutions to climate crises that set the stage for lasting peace in the Middle East and beyond,” says Bradford Schlei, one of the film’s producers.

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By supporting a world-class academic institution that not only nurtures the Negev, but also shares its expertise locally and globally, Americans for Ben-Gurion University (A4BGU) engages a community of Americans who are committed to improving the world. David Ben-Gurion envisioned that Israel’s future would be forged in the Negev. The cutting-edge research carried out at Ben-Gurion University drives that vision by sustaining a desert Silicon Valley, with the “Stanford of the Negev” at its center. The Americans for Ben-Gurion University movement supports a 21st-century unifying vision for Israel by rallying around BGU’s remarkable work and role as an apolitical beacon of light in the Negev desert.
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