Behind the Headlines: What Makes Paul Zuckerman Run–by Jack Siegel

Istanbul, formerly Constantinople, where Paul Zuckerman was born, is a far cry from Detroit where he was raised and even a further cry from the 44th floor of the New York hotel where his doors were guarded by special security during the recent United Jewish Appeal’s 1974 national conference. He was a student during the depression at a Jesuit college in Detroit because “it was two blocks from my house” and he could save the carfare. Paul, a dropout in his junior year for non-academic reasons (lack of funds), then drove a truck–which explains his sturdy and compact six-feet tall physique. He then graduated to warehouse manager before becoming a buyer for a wholesale grocery firm. Being a close observer, he noted that one peanut butter company in Detroit was not functioning as well as it could be.

So Paul quit his job, borrowed $1700 (a fortune in those days) and went into the peanut butter business And–failed. But the failure constituted a challenge. He went to work again, attended night IBM school and simultaneously studied the agriculture and equipment of the industry. One year later, again on borrowed capital, he returned to the business, and this time succeeded. In his hotel suite, during the interview, there is some come and go, interrupted time and again by UJA people–professionals and laymen. There is also Mrs. Zuckerman, a daughter and a son-in-law. (Else-where there is a son.) One of Paul’s two secretaries in the room is trying to return a call which has come from Washington.

Paul identifies himself as religious, by which he means he has a special feeling towards his fellow man. Although he belongs to Conservative and Reform congregations, to Paul the roof of his true temple is the sky itself and he is thus always in shul. You watch the man. He is suave and sophisticated but not prissy. He is as expressive in the language of colloquialism as he is comfortable in the Queen’s loshen. A collector of antiquities and a devotee of abstract art, besides running a very successful business, he jets all over the United States and as frequently to Israel on behalf of the UJA. Why, you ask him, does he engage in this exhaustive and often frustrating task when he might well—. But he anticipates the rest of the question. “There are two kinds of successful men among those who were poor when they were young. Those who still have fears and want more and more security. And those who went through the agony and know the fear of being poor and want to alleviate the same situation for others.” He believes that those in the second group “are truly religious and are to be admired and respected.”

Most people who are involved, you say, know the name of Paul Zuckerman. They read the press releases always tied in with anonymous figures. But what does he think, for instance, about whether the American Jews should work together with the Israelis on how to spend the money raised in the United States? But Paul says that is now being done, and through the re-constituted Jewish Agency. “Priorities are thought out” and then moved up the organizational ladder to final implementation. All activities, he stresses, are based on the concept of the Agency making “humanitarian efforts for those Jews who wish to come to Israel.” What about Soviet Jews, you ask. Some people around the country have said this was a manufactured issue which succeeded in alienating the Soviet Union. Paul bristles angrily at this–saying it was not “a manufactured issue” but a “humanitarian must.”

He believes Jews of the Soviet Union should have the right of egress and to live as Jews. This they cannot do in the Soviet Union, he says. But the Soviet “influx” creates problems within Israel itself, for instance, among that part of the population which has been there longer and which is under or hovering around the poverty level. Paul places the root cause, oddly enough, on the shoulders of American Jewry and the Jews in the rest of the world outside of Israel. “In ’48, Jews in the diaspora responded beautifully in shouldering the humanitarian and social needs of Israel. In ’67 they dug deeply and met their responsibilities as Jews. Where we failed.” he says, “was during the seventeen year interval Between 1948 and 1967 we contributed insufficient funds to properly absorb those refugees who saw in Israel that long dreamed of freedom.”

Another interruption: this time a family matter and again the call to Washington which is difficult to complete. Does he want to talk about the oil situation? He doesn’t but he expresses his awareness of what the Administration has done to help Israel during the Yom Kippur War. However, he relates oil to industry generally. The difference between Jew and Gentile arises. He refers to the “five o’clock shadow” by which he means that in the evening the Jew goes his way and the non Jew goes the other. Paul adds: “We are a people, and if the Jew doesn’t know it, the non-Jew-will remind him.” From the window, you are on a level with clouds hugging the other buildings on the horizon. It’s a rainy day. “You can’t run away from being a Jew,” Paul says.

You mention Israel’s isolated position in the world community, with the exception of the United States; Paul believes the antipathy to Israel is not real. He believes a crash program in this country will soon produce sufficient energy, and Europe, now humiliated by the Arab oil boycott, will eventually re-express its friendship for Israel, What about the Geneva peace conference, you ask, Israel with only one friend and that friend who might make some unacceptable demands. Israel. Paul says, has sufficient leverage it can employ at Geneva. It has room for maneuver. The call to Washington has been connected but the interview is ended. Including the unpublishable.

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