NET WORTH: $5.3 billion
SOURCE OF WEALTH: Home Depot
JEWISH FUNDING AREAS: Youth Development and Education, Israel Advocacy & Policy, Culture, Community
OVERVIEW: Bernard Marcus and his wife Billi give through the Marcus Foundation. In their Jewish-related philanthropy, preserving Jewish identity and culture is the top priority, which manifests in substantial support for the state of Israel and youth development, among other focus areas. In the U.S., the Atlanta region is a central area of focus. The foundation does not accept unsolicited proposals.
BACKGROUND: Bernard Marcus graduated from Rutgers University, where he studied to be pharmacist. After graduation, he moved from pharmacy to retail and helped run stores. In 1978, he and his co-worker Arthur Blank got fired from Handy Dan, a California hardware store, and soon opened a rival retailer, The Home Depot.
FUNDING PROFILE: Bernard Marcus and his wife Billi given through the Marcus Foundation, which distributed more than $110 million in grants in a recent tax year, which is aligned with Marcus' commitment to the Giving Pledge. Giving to Jewish-related organizations is the primary focus on this philanthropy. Despite major money moving through the door annually, the billionaire's charity keeps a very low profile, without even a website presence.
The primary through-line to all of Marcus' Jewish-related giving is a focus on maintaining Jewish communities and Jewish culture, both in the U.S. and Israel. Support of youth development and education play a major role for this funder, with an enormous list of organizations that receive significant support. These include the Foundation for Campus Jewish Life, the Israel on Campus Coalition, BBYO, Birthright Israel, and a wide variety of day camps, Hillels, and Jewish day schools. This youth development and education focus also extends to the youth of and from Israel. For example, in a recent year the Marcus Foundation gave $1.6 million to Friends of Yemin Orde, specifically earmarked for "transforming education for Israeli immigrants and at-risk children and youth."
More broadly, the state of Israel is a very signifiant cause for Marcus. In 1991, with the assistance of Israeli leaders and former Secretary of State George Shultz, Marcus helped cofound the Israel Democracy Institute, which self describes as "an independent center of research and action dedicated to strengthening the foundations of Israeli democracy." As Marcus Foundation Executive Director Jay Kaiman explains, Marcus "got concerned years ago not only about the external threats to Israel, but about the internal threats." The Marcus Foundation has given tens of millions to Israel Democracy Institute through the years.
The foundation also supports the Jewish Institute For National Security Affairs, the American Israel Education Foundation, Center for Israel Education, Friends of Israel Defense Forces, Israel Education Resource Center, Israel Emergency Alliance, The Israel Project, Zionist Organization of America, and The Rethink Israel Initiative, among many, many others. More so than most funders in this arena, Marcus casts a notably wide and very generous net in name of preserving and strengthening Israel's statehood, and thinks about this issue broadly. For example, the foundation recently gave a $25 million gift to American Friends of Magen David Adom to build a new blood center—called the Marcus National Blood Services Center.
Back the U.S., Marcus also focuses on general Jewish community building and cultural preservation. Much of this philanthropy is focused on the Atlanta area, where the Jewish Community Center is named in his honor. The region is also home to the Marcus Jewish Community Center of Atlanta. Other grantees have included the Atlanta Jewish Film Society, the Atlanta Jewish Music Festival, the William Breman Jewish Home, Jewish Family & Career Services, the Union for Reform Judaism, Judaism Your Way, the Jewish Outreach Institute, Jewish Adoption and Foster Care Options, the Institute of Southern Jewish Life, InterfaithFamily.com, and Hands on Tzedakah, again among many others. The breadth and depth of community and cultural giving also shows the variety of ways Marcus seeks to preserve and enrich the Jewish people and Jewish life.
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The Marcus Foundation does not provide a clear avenue of contact but below is an address:
The Marcus Foundation, Inc.
1266 W. Paces Ferry Rd., No. 615
Atlanta, GA United States 30327
Contact: Jay Kaiman, Exec. Dir.