Tag Archives: AEPi

Jews of the Week: Bernie Marcus and Arthur Blank

The Home Depot

Bernie Marcus

Bernard Marcus (b. 1929) was born in New Jersey to Russian-Jewish immigrants. His dream was to become a doctor, but he could not afford the tuition. Instead, he studied pharmacy at Rutgers University (where he was part of the Jewish AEPi fraternity) and paid his way by building cabinets with his father. While working at a drug store after graduating, Marcus realized that he is far more interested in business than pharmacy. He went on to work in various retail jobs, eventually becoming the CEO of a home improvement store. There he met Arthur Max Blank (b. 1942). Blank had studied business in college, and worked in various accounting jobs until becoming VP of finance at the same home improvement store as Marcus. The two were both fired from the company in 1978. Undeterred, they decided to start their own home improvement store, with a new “warehouse” concept, and a focus on superb customer service and a vision of giving back to the community. The two hired a fellow employee who had been fired, Ron Brill, as well as businessman Pat Farrah, who had once owned a home improvement store. The following year they opened the first Home Depot in Atlanta. Just two years later, they branched out into Florida and went public. Within a decade, Home Depot had become America’s largest home improvement store. Today, it has over 2200 stores across the US, Canada, and Mexico, with some 385,000 employees, and is the world’s largest buyer of construction materials. True to their original vision, The Home Depot Foundation has donated over $200 million in support of various causes, including Habitat for Humanity. They have been lauded for their environmental conservation, avoiding lumber purchases from endangered forests, running the largest light bulb recycling program in the US, and spending $100 million over ten years to build 100,000 green homes and plant 3 million trees. Home Depot also sponsors the US and Canada Olympic Teams.

Arthur Blank

Marcus and Blank served as CEO and president of Home Depot for 19 years. Upon retirement, Blank purchased the Atlanta Falcons football team, and recently founded a new Major League Soccer team, Atlanta United FC. He is also a noted philanthropist, donating millions to various causes, including a recent $7 million to Denver’s National Jewish Health Center. Blank has signed The Giving Pledge, committing to donating at least 50% of his wealth to charity. Marcus has signed the Pledge, too, and was one of America’s most charitable donors in 2005. Among his many contributions, he has given $25 million to Autism Speaks, $15 million for a new nanotechnology research centre, and $5 million to co-found the Israel Democracy Institute. He now chairs his Marcus Foundation, which has given countless sums to children’s causes, Jewish communities, medical research, and support for military veterans. When asked why he was so passionate about charity, he said: “It goes back to what I learned as a young Jewish boy growing up in Newark, N.J. with immigrant parents: You have an obligation to give back to society. Thirty years ago, when I had no money, I worked for various charities, gave my heart, soul and time – now I can also give money.”

Words of the Week

We have neither taken other men’s land, nor are we in possession of other men’s property, but of the inheritance of our forefathers; it was wrongfully held by our enemies at one time, but we, grasping our opportunity, hold firmly the inheritance of our forefathers.
– Simon Maccabee (Book of Maccabees I,15:34-35)

Jew of the Week: Mark Zuckerberg

Mark Elliot Zuckerberg (b. 1984) was born in White Plains, New York to a Jewish family with German, Austrian, and Polish ancestry. He excelled in high school, won multiple awards, and by the time he was ready to go to college, knew Hebrew, French, Latin, and Greek. Zuckerberg was first taught programming by his father, and later had a private tutor, who called him a “prodigy”. In his youth, he created an instant messaging app for his father’s dentistry (a year before AOL’s Instant Messenger came out), as well as a music player that learned its user’s listening preferences. Not surprisingly, Zuckerberg went to Harvard to study computer science and psychology. He was a member of the Jewish fraternity AEPi. During this time, he made a number of programs, including one to coordinate with friends to choose the same classes, and another to rank people’s appearance (called Facemash) which was so popular it quickly crashed Harvard’s servers. In early 2004, Zuckerberg launched “Thefacebook”, and soon dropped out of school to work on it. After recruiting some friends, he moved his team to Silicon Valley. It wasn’t long before he had offers to buy out Facebook, which was now sweeping college campuses across the country. Zuckerberg refused, not wanting to have people’s information controlled by “media corporations owned by conglomerates”. The company went public in 2012, valued at a record-setting $104 billion. Today, Facebook boasts 2 billion active users, and nearly $30 billion in revenue. The company also owns Instagram, WhatsApp, and Oculus. Meanwhile, Zuckerberg has become a noted philanthropist. He donated over $100 million in 2010, before becoming America’s biggest charity donor in 2013 when, in a single act, he donated Facebook shares worth nearly $1 billion, making it the largest charitable gift ever. He has since pledged to donate 99% of his wealth. One of his main projects is to bring internet access to the billions of people that still do not have it. Zuckerberg has been ranked first in a list of the “Top 100 most influential people of the Information Age”. In recent years, he has taken a greater interest in both politics and religion. Last December, someone asked “Aren’t you an atheist?” to which he responded: “No. I was raised Jewish and then I went through a period where I questioned things, but now I believe religion is very important.” In May, he gave a commencement speech at Harvard (which finally awarded him an honourary degree years after he dropped out) and concluded with a traditional Hebrew Mi Sheberach blessing, stating that he always recited it when faced with challenges. Zuckerberg is still the CEO of Facebook, with a salary of $1. There have been rumours that he is planning to run for president in 2020.

Words of the Week

Just as wisdom is not something you can feel with your hands, Godliness is not something you can grasp with your mind.
– Rabbi Schneur Zalman of Liadi