Marc Gold’s father—well-known Atlantic City photographer Al Gold — spent much of his life photographing celebrities like Frank Sinatra and Marilyn Monroe. This same man inspired his son, Marc, to follow in the footsteps of Mother Teresa.
As the founder of a philanthropic organization called 100 Friends, Marc Gold has spent the past 25 years traveling around Asia, saving and improving countless lives, sometimes spending only a dollar or two per person.
Speaking at Shabbat services at Congregation Beth Judah in Ventnor on July 12, Gold recalled the first time his father had a talk with him about the meaning of life. Al Gold was recovering from a heart attack; his son was eight years old. “I’m too young to talk about stuff like that,” Marc recalled saying.
Nevertheless, his father marched him in the bathroom and stood him on the toilet, so Marc could see himself in the mirror. “Then he asked: ‘How old will you be in 70 years?’ “78,” I said. Then he said: “When you are 78, I want you to look at yourself in the mirror again and ask yourself: What have you accomplished in your one and only life?”
Marc was perplexed.
“What am I going to do?” I asked. My dad told me: “You figure it out.”
Marc did figure it out, and his father (who passed away in 1964) would be proud. Fascinated with Asian cultures, Marc took his first trip to India in the late 1980s. His experiences there changed his life and turned him into what he calls a “Shoestring Philanthropist.”
During that trip, Gold met a woman who was on the verge of dying from an ear infection. She needed antibiotics, but could not afford them. Gold purchased the medicine for her—for $1—and saved her life.
Overwhelmed by how so little money could make such a difference in the lives of people he met on that trip, he resolved to return with more money to help the needy. Although Gold, a community college professor with young children, didn’t have much spare cash, he did have friends—100 of them. He asked each of them for a modest donation…and so 100 Friends was born.
That was in 1989. Since then, Gold said, he has carried out 19 humanitarian missions in over 50 countries in the Developing World. Gold has built schools for as little as $1,500 and libraries for $500. He has distributed wheelchairs to the disabled in Vietnam (500 of them for $500) and needed medicines to hospitals in India, sometimes supplying an entire hospital for as little as $300. He has also helped many young girls in Nepalese villages who are at risk of being sold into sexual slavery by paying for their schooling and for supplies and food for their families. The cost? About $160 for each girl per year, he said.
Yet for Gold, it is not about numbers; it’s about the people, and the happiness on the faces of those he helps—like the many Filipino children living in garbage dumps he is able to send to school, giving them a chance at a better life; or the poor mothers Gold is able to help set up in their own businesses.
Gold acknowledges that there are too many people to help. Once he actually talked with Mother Teresa about how little he felt he could do in the face of such overwhelming needs. “Do you know how to swim?” she asked him. When he told her he did, she replied: “If a boat sank and 100 people were on it and were going to drown, what would you do?”
“I would try to save as many as I could,” he said. “Start swimming,” Mother Teresa replied.
For the past 25 years, Gold has never stopped swimming, to the amazement of those he grew up with. “Marc has done more than anyone I’ve ever heard of to ‘repair the world,’” said Donna Josephs, who knew Gold from their days at Atlantic City High School, and helped arrange his visit to Beth Judah. “He, more than anyone I’m sure I’ll ever meet in my lifetime, demonstrates the concept of ‘tikkun olam.’”
Beth Judah congregants and other community members were also invited to a fundraiser for Gold’s 100 Friends organization later that evening at the home of Ellen Lichtenstein in Margate.
For more information on 100 Friends, or to make a donation, go to 100friends.org. The website also offers many ideas on how people can help raise funds for those in need and make a difference.
By ELLEN WEISMAN STRENGER, Jewish Community Voice shore correspondent