There was a touching story in the Wall Street Journal recently about a German-Jewish couple named Dr. Howard and Lottie Marcus, who passed away within two years of each other at ages 104 and 99, respectively. Two weeks ago, it was revealed that in their will, they left $400 million to Ben-Gurion University (BGU) in the Negev in what is said to be the largest donation ever made to an Israeli institution. 

What makes the story particularly interesting is that the Marcuses were not fabulously successful industrialists or heirs to a huge fortune. He was a dentist and she a secretary, but through her work for a Wall Street firm, she met legendary investor Warren Buffett. They put their savings into his Berkshire Hathaway investment partnership, and 50 years later, this unprecedented bequest is the result. 

It’s a very charming tale, and a testament, too, to the magnanimity of the Jewish heart. 

But listening to what motivated the Marcuses, we come to see that one can be magnanimous and well intentioned, yet sadly mistaken, too. According to the BGU fundraiser who cultivated them, the “Marcuses escaped Hitler’s Germany and lost their families. They came to believe that if Germany — ‘the most civilized nation in the world’ — could descend to barbarity and to the mass murder of Jews, it could happen anywhere. A strong and secure State of Israel, they concluded, would have saved their families…” 

Yet even without accounting for a G-d Who runs the world, would the answer to the Nazi annihilation of the Jews have been a “strong and secure Israel”? We live in a world in which Israel has, in fact, a whole arsenal of nukes and still lives in dread of another nation that is building its own right now, with the world’s tacit approval, for the express purpose of destroying Israel. This, after Israel’s prime minister came to Washington with hat in hand (it wasn’t on his head) to plead for its best friend in the whole world to stop Iran, and failed. So much for “strong and secure.” 

Or shall we instead accept as true the comical boast made just weeks ago by a former head of Israeli intelligence that Israel’s existence is “assured for the next 1,000 years,” because there “is no existential threat to Israel from anybody in the world, including the Iranians, as it has adequate responses to any threat that the Iranians pose”? They can put this guy’s picture in the Encyclopedia Judaica next to the entry for kochi v’otzem yadi asah li es hachayil hazeh. 

In the very same interview, when asked about Israel’s own nuclear program, he responded, “If you are asking me whether Israel has nuclear weapons, my answer is that I don’t know.” This led to a surreal exchange between the incredulous interviewer and the interviewee, who kept insisting that “in order to be head of Mossad, I don’t have to be a person who knows whether we have nukes or not.” For all his chest-beating about Israel’s millennium-long invincibility, he sure seems to be scared of something. 

This, by the way, is the same fellow who told the Jewish Week in 2013 that “the growing haredi radicalization” in Israeli society “poses a greater threat than [Iranian president Mahmoud] Ahmadinejad.” And now we understand why: Vis-á-vis external threats, Israel is good to go for a 1,000 years — maybe more, if its supply of hummus doesn’t run out first. But those dastardly chareidim? Why, within decades, with the “continued growth of non-Zionist haredi communities, Zionists could become a minority in Israel even without the Arabs.” That’s okay — if he needs to live where Israeli Zionists outnumber chareidim, he can always move to L.A. 

Back to our story. The BGU fundraiser says the Marcuses got involved with the university in 1997 after becoming fascinated by the work being done in desalination and desert farming at its Zuckerberg Institute for Water Research. He said they “believed that peace could come to the Middle East if water scarcity could be addressed.” 

Where does one begin to dispel the naiveté of believing that if only we brought enlightenment and education and indoor plumbing and desalinated water to the Arab world… then, ah, then there would be peace in the Middle East? The answer is that one does not begin, because this is the “Middle East peace” strain of a malady known clinically as Delusional Liberal Utopianism. Its symptoms include tragically misreading your enemy’s motivations and believing him to be as bereft of deeply held religious principles as you are. It is chronic and usually terminal. 

Does that mean all one has to do to bring peace is to see his enemy clearly, to understand that he is motivated by visceral, religiously motivated emotions like hatred of the Jew and of the West? No, that might be a necessary measure to avoid war, but it will not bring peace. 

Real peace, the kind that will last forever, won’t come until those afflicted with Delusional Liberal Utopianism stop trying to buy off the Arabs’ pride and principles with indoor plumbing and fresh water. But it also won’t come until we who laugh at those so afflicted stop doing so and instead face the realization that we are all in some sense deluded if we think that our troubles are attributable to crazed Islamists or to the policies or plots of this or that nation. 

Our troubles are the result of a world distanced from — nay, at war with — G-d. True peace will come only when we — all of us — perceive the spiritual subtext underlying the material text and return to Him, so that regular wake-up calls to do so will no longer be necessary. 

In a sense, then, the Marcuses, that lovely Jewish couple, had it right. Almost. They learned the right lesson from their years of horror — that being “the most civilized nation in the world” doesn’t prevent a country from descent to barbarity and to the mass murder of Jews — but they failed to take the logical next step. What a shame they didn’t use some of their hundreds of millions to support a very different kind of “institute for water research” — the Israeli institutions in which men live on very little in order to study, implement, and teach others about the only system in human history that can, once did, and yet will create a truly humane civilization. 

They passed on without ever realizing just how right they were in what they believed: “Peace could come to the Middle East if water scarcity could be addressed.” 

V’ein mayim ela Torah.