Documentary About German Jewish Couple Who Gave Largest Donation to Israel in History to Premiere in NY
by Shiryn Ghermezian
Premiering in New York next week is a documentary about a German Jewish couple whose $500 million gift to Ben-Gurion University of the Negev for the advancement of water technology remains the single-largest charitable donation made to Israel in its history, according to the university.
The World Water Film Festival will host two screenings of Who Are The Marcuses? about Long Island couple and Holocaust refugees Lottie and Howard Marcus. The virtually-unknown philanthropists, who never publicized their wealth, were born in Germany but fled the country separately in the 1930s before the start of World War II. They subsequently met and married in New York.
Howard, a former dentist, died in 2014 at age 104, and Lottie, who formerly worked in an investment firm on Wall Street, died less than two years later at age 99, just two months shy of her 100th birthday. The film follows the Marcus’ lives from their upbringing in Germany and the antisemitism they faced for being Jewish to their move to the United States, and how they amassed their fortune with help from business magnate and philanthropist Warren Buffett while continuing to live a simple and modest life, as described by their daughter and granddaughter.
Their donation is believed to be the largest bequest on behalf of an Israeli university and the largest donation ever made to the state of Israel, according to Americans for Ben-Gurion University, a non-profit organization that supports the institution.
The documentary also explains what compelled the Marcus’, with a small push from their daughter, to give away 90 percent of their estate to Ben-Gurion University. It further highlights the development of Israel’s water technology and how the Marcus’ donation in 2016 has helped the advancement of water science.
The film explains that when Howard made the donation to the Israeli institution it was valued at the time to $200 million, but when Ben-Gurion University actually received the sum, its value had gone up and was close to $500 million.
Who Are The Marcuses? is directed by Matthew Mishory and produced by Rubber Ring Films and Stone Canyon Entertainment’s Bradford Schlei and Alvaro Fernandez. It includes an original score by Israeli guitarist and singer David Broza. The film features interviews with Buffett; Israeli President Isaac Herzog; historian Daniel Gordis; and former presidents of Ben-Gurion University of the Negev and current president Daniel Chamovitz, among others.
Buffett called Who Are The Marcuses? “a wonderful film recounting the remarkable tale of Israel, water, and philanthropy.” He said in 2016 about his relationship with the couple: “I met Howard and Lottie more than 50 years ago — through a mutual friend, my lifetime hero Ben Graham. We hit it off and they joined my investment partnership. Knowing them, it comes as no surprise that they elected to use their financial success to enhance the lives of thousands of Israeli young people.”
The World Water Film Festival on March 19 will kick off a week of water activities, known as New York Water Week, leading into the 2023 United Nations Water Conference that will take place March 22-24.
Who Are The Marcuses? made its world premiere at the Newport Beach Film Festival in California in October 2022 and the following month was screened at the United Nations Climate Change Conference, also called COP27, in Sharm El Sheikh, Egypt.
Watch the trailer for Who Are The Marcuses? below.