Harold Marcus needed a job.
He was 30 years old, had two small children to care for and was out of work after the private charge account firm he’d been with reorganized and eliminated his position.
While sitting in a Pittsburgh bagel shop, Marcus met a man who walked in and turned his life around — sort of the Jewish equivalent to actress Lana Turner being discovered in a Hollywood diner.
“A chance meeting with [Israel Bond Executive Director] Bill Cohen at Bagel Nosh in Pittsburgh,” recalled Marcus, executive director for the Pennsylvania region of Israel Bonds, which recently completed a record year both locally and across the U.S. “I had met him at his grandson’s birthday party. His grandson and my daughter were in nursery school together. He sat down with me and asked me, ‘What do you do?’ I told him I was looking for a job. At the time I didn’t know what an Israel bond was.”
That was 36 years ago — double chai in Israel Bonds sales terminology — and Marcus has never looked back. He spent the first 30 of those years in Pittsburgh, many of them caring for his ailing wife, Maxine, who died in 2008.
Eventually, he and his new wife, Maureen, moved to Philadelphia, where he runs the Center City Israel Bonds office, though scurrying back each month to the Steel City to see his children and grandchildren.
“We like Philadelphia a lot,” said Marcus, who recently attended Israel Bonds’ International Prime Minister’s Club dinner in Florida, which announced $260 million in sales and pledges, “but I still bleed black and gold [Pittsburgh Steelers’ colors].
“I love the congregation we joined, Old York Road Temple-Beth Am. But from the time I can remember, I was always involved in Jewish learning and activities. I taught religious school from when I was 16 until I moved here. I can remember as a teen wanting to be a rabbi.”
That never happened, but selling Israel bonds has enabled him to maintain that tie to his religion, though the job has changed over the years.
“There’s a whole different mindset,” Marcus said. “Even though Israel bonds have always been an investment, 30 years ago people looked at it as a donation.
“We had to change the culture. We’re not a charity. It’s hard to drive that message home, but we constantly strive to educate the next generation because if we don’t we have no future.”
Based on what’s been happening of late, the future appears bright for Israel Bonds, which recently got an unofficial seal of approval from billionaire Warren Buffett.
He helped raise $60 million at a November event where each investor pledged $1 million simply to attend. Since then, Buffett has committed to attending a June fundraiser in New York.
In 2016, Israel Bonds sales reached a record $1.22 billion in the United States and a record $80.135 million in Marcus’ region, which includes Pennsylvania, South Jersey, Delaware and West Virginia. That’s about double the numbers from before his arrival.
Why such a dramatic jump?
“As the market has been performing the last several years, Israel bonds have become a good and prudent investment for any portfolio for several reasons,” Marcus said. “In an unstable market, people look at the fact nobody’s ever lost a penny on Israel bonds held to maturity.
“Israel’s never defaulted or been late. So people know they’re going to get their money back and get their interest. Israel bonds have become a good place to put your money.”
Since debuting in 1951, Israel Bonds have surpassed the $40 billion mark in sales, Marcus said. In the last four years alone, U.S. sales have topped $1 billion.
And with Israeli technology booming, Marcus and his team of sales representatives see no reason why it shouldn’t continue.
Marcus noted that Israel Bonds isn’t a mom-and-pop operation. It’s a licensed brokerage firm, with its officers’ licenses renewed every three years.
And Marcus said to remember what that money does.
“The money goes directly toward the Finance Ministry to be used to develop every aspect of Israel’s economy,” Marcus said.
The type of bond you buy — whether it’s for the Bar Mitzvah boy, to join the $25,000-minimum Prime Minister’s Club or a cool million to hang with Warren Buffett — is up to you.
Israel Bonds offers a multitude of options for length and rates and is sponsoring out-of-the-box events, like an axe-throwing and wine-tasting experience — not at the same time, of course. It’s all part of attracting new leadership.
That’s not something Harold Marcus could’ve imagined that day in the Bagel Nosh.
“When Bill interviewed me, I said I thought it was something I could be very good at and would love to do,” he recalled. “I loved it from day one, and through the years my passion for Israel has just increased.”
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