A Critical Lifeline: Israel’s New National Blood Bank

As Israel’s allies come to its aid during the unfolding Israel-Hamas war, one critical resource that has been years in the making and has proven paramount to Israel’s defenses is the recently completed Marcus National Blood Services Center, funded by hundreds of donors, including Bernie and Billi Marcus of The Marcus Foundation and American Friends of Magen David Adom (AFMDA).  

At the grand opening of the blood bank in Ramla, Israel, on May 2, 2022, Isaac Herzog, the president of Israel said, “The Marcus National Blood Services Center … embodies the most moving essence of our shared humanity. To receive a blood transfusion — the irreplaceable gift of life — from complete strangers is a stark reminder that we are one living, breathing tapestry of humanity, now safeguarded in this impressive new center.” Catherine Reed, CEO of AFMDA, called the center of “strategic importance to the people of Israel.”  

Philanthropy Roundtable recently sat down with The Marcus Foundation to discuss the security features in place at the Marcus National Blood Services Center and the critical role philanthropy played in its founding. 

Q: On May 2, 2022, the Marcus National Blood Services Center was dedicated in Ramla, Israel. How did the Marcus Foundation learn this was needed in Israel and why was Bernie Marcus inspired to support it? 

The Marcus Foundation: Bernie Marcus learned years ago, on a trip to Israel, that the blood center at the time, located at Tel HaShomer, had to move its operations into bomb shelters when rockets launched from Gaza targeted the Tel Aviv area. He realized then how delicate and vulnerable the blood system was.   

“We worked with Magen David Adom (MDA) as it rethought ways to protect Israel’s national blood supply well into the future,” he has said. “Having it in a safe and secure underground facility doubled the blood supply and protects it from harm during missile attacks, chemical warfare and earthquakes, ensuring Israel’s blood supply will be protected for all its citizens, Jews, Christians and Muslims alike.” 

More than 600 Americans and others around the world also made significant donations. Bernie and Billi donated $35 million to the project. In addition to the Marcuses, major donations were made by the Adelson Family Foundation; Bloomberg Philanthropies; Donna Calcaterra; Kurt and Susan Charm Schwartz; Crown Family Philanthropies; The Deshe, Diamond and Saul Schottenstein families; The Donner and Sznajer families; Judy Fleischer; Barbara and Dr. Bruce Ribner and The Charles and Lynn Schusterman Family Philanthropies. A total of 25 of the major gifts were each $1 million or more. 

Q: The new blood bank was meticulously designed to double Israel’s blood capacity while also being protected from missiles, biological and chemical warfare and earthquakes. Which capabilities and securities are in place in this facility?  

The Marcus Foundation: Construction of the project required the removal of 11,000 truckloads of soil to excavate the site. Three floors of the six-floor facility are underground and have an even larger subterranean footprint than what is seen above ground. 

The facility, built at a cost of $135 million, is a first in its concept, design, engineering and capabilities. It was designed and constructed in cooperation with the Prime Minister’s Office, Ministry of Defense, Israel Defense Forces and the National Cyber Security Authority. It is shielded with extra-thick concrete walls, blast doors and airlocks. One of the doors is considered the most secure, largest and heaviest blast door in Israel and, perhaps, the world. To ensure the highest levels of protection and continuity of operations in war scenarios, such as today, each critical system has a secondary system. The center has 375 employees, including hematologists, phlebotomists and lab technicians. 

Q: What impact has the new blood bank had in the wake of the October 7 attacks on Israel? 

The Marcus Foundation: Since October 7 through November 26 (seven weeks), AFMDA blood services collected 81,000 blood units. This is 2.3 times the 35,000 blood units collected during its regular activities. Only because they had the new protected, safe, spacious Marcus Blood Services Center, were they able to process, test, store and deliver all the units needed by the civilian and military authorities in Israel.  

Both the blood inventory and the employees, volunteers and the military brigade of reservists, soldiers and officers, who were recruited to assist during this emergency — all were under 100% protection during the many Red Alert events that were experienced in the last 2.5 months. It can confidently be said that the blood supply of Israel was saved during this war due to the generous, important donation of the Marcus family and foundation. 

Q: How can donations to this vital project be made? 

The Marcus Foundation: Donations are especially important now, and ongoing support is needed, as normal blood need is 270,000 units of blood a year, and terrorism continues to take the lives of innocent Israelis. Amazingly, the Blood Center became operational just days before October 7. The Center and ambulances were all called into service on and after October 7. 

MDA relies on the support of donors to keep its dispatch systems, training and equipment the best in the world. MDA’s site has various ways people can contribute including donations of critical equipment and financial donations online, via text, phone and mail. The blood center has its own donation website. 

Q: In your opinion, how did Bernie’s approach to philanthropy make a difference in supporting this particular project?  

The Marcus Foundation: Bernie’s business acumen, combined with his passion for saving lives, culminates in an entrepreneurial approach to giving that is unique and often missing in the nonprofit sector. In his philanthropy, Bernie has helped redefine the metrics philanthropists employ to distribute their wealth. He has said, “Charity is no different from business. There’s a bottom line to it.” 

The probing questions donors should pose to potential grantees include: What are the deliverables? How will we measure outcomes? What is the organization’s plan for self-sufficiency? How capable is the leadership? 

Learn more about Bernie Marcus and his charitable giving by watching his interview from our video series Doers to Donors.

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