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Paul Zuckerman Dead at 73

January 10, 1986
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Paul Zuckerman, a long-time leader in philanthropic endeavors on behalf of Israel, its education institutions, and world Jewry, died here yesterday of cancer at the age of 73. Services are scheduled for tomorrow.

Known for his boundless energy — he logged 250,000 miles a year in his fund-raising work — Zuckerman once said, “How can you get tired when there is so much to do and so little time to do it ?”

Zuckerman served as president of the United Jewish Appeal, 1975-76, its general chairman, 1972-74, and chairman of the Israel Emergency Fund in 1967. He was also treasurer of the United Israel Appeal, and chairman of the World Fund-Raising Committee of the reconstituted Jewish Agency.

Other Jewish organizations he served as an officer included the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee (JDC), the Jewish Agency, the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, the Jewish Telegraphic Agency, and the Jewish National Fund.

In recent years, he increasingly devoted himself to work on behalf of various educational projects and institutions. He served in various official capacities for Ben Gurion University, the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, American ORT Federation, Boys Town Jerusalem, and Akim, the Israeli organization to benefit the retarded.


Prime Minister Shimon Peres said Zuckerman’s death “is a loss that is deeply feit by the citizens of the State of Israel …. From the establishment of the State and on through years of historic challenge, (he) was at the forefront of efforts in Israel’s behalf…”

The United Jewish Appeal, in a statement signed by national chairman Alex Grass, Board of Trustees chairman Robert Loup, and president Stanley Horowitz, said of Zuckerman, in part: “A deeply compassionate individual and a distinguished son of Detroit, he always gave generously of his time and talent to help others. His humanitarian service spanned many decades, setting a standard of excellence that will serve as a model for generations to come.”

Zuckerman was born in Istanbul in 1912, when it was still known as Constantinople, the son of Joseph and Rose Popper Zuckerman. Raised in Detroit, he attended a Jesuit college, dropping out in his junior year because of lack of funds in the Depression year of 1932.


His first job was driving a truck — “in those days it paid extremely well”–then working as a haberdasher, and a drug-store and warehouse clerk. The man who was to become the largest independent producer of peanut butter in the world began making the popular spread in an old garage with second-hand equipment.

Zuckerman experienced some initial ups and downs before earning the sobriquet of “The Peanut Butter King” bestowed on him by President Lyndon Johnson. A leading food manufacturer and distributor, his business associations included being a director of Super Sol Market of Israel. At the time of his death, he was chairman of the Velvet-O’ Donnell Corporation.

Zuckerman served as president of the United Jewish Charities in Detroit and chairman of the Allied Jewish Campaign. The Detroit Jewish community honored him by planting 10,000 trees as “Zuckerman Forest” in the hills overlooking Jerusalem. He, in turn, built Detroit Park in Jerusalem, where Jewish and Arab children play together.


Zuckerman once told an interviewer he “became involved with the United Jewish Appeal the day I was born, because I’m Jewish.” His commitment deepened, he said, when the State of Israel was born. “I was elated because finally there was a place for the survivors of the Nazi Holocaust. From then on, I devoted most of my time not only to Israel but to other countries where existing conditions made emigration impossible.”

Soviet Jewry — an issue he once called a “humanitarian must” — was a major concern for Zuckerman. He told a reporter in 1972 that “the Jackson-Vanik bill was born in my living room at 3 o’clock in the morning ” when the idea of holding out the Most-Favored Nation (MFN) status as an incentive was first put forward. The bill, passed in 1974, “worked for a while — over 250,000 Jews escaped from Russia,” he added.

Zuckerman was also involved with the social problems in Israel engendered by the influx of Soviet Jews, particularly the resentment on the part of previous immigrants who were “hovering around the poverty level. ” He placed the responsibility for that problem on the shoulders of American Jewry and other communities outside Israel who, he said, between 1948 and 1967, “contributed insufficient funds to properly absorb those refugees who saw in Israel that long dreamed-of freedom.”

Active, as well, on behalf of various general humanitarian concerns Zuckerman was named by President Johnson to head the U.S. Food for Peace Committee in Detroit. He was a Board member of the National Conference of Christians and Jews, and received the Vatican’s Knight of Charity Medallion.


His many honors also included a Human Rights Medallion from the American Jewish Committee, a citation from the Jewish War Veterans of the U.S., an honorary fellowship from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, and an honorary doctorate of philosophy from Bar Ilan University. A life member of the Zionist Organization of America, he learned about a month before his death that he had been selected to receive this year’s Brandeis Award.

Queried about when he’d begun taking trips to Israel, Zuckerman replied, “Started in 1956 and have not stopped!” He maintained a home in Caesaria, where he tried his hand at painting and sculpting. He also collected works of art and antiquities as an avocation.

Zuckerman was once asked what he considered his most significant achievement. His reply summed up a lifetime of involvement: “Being and acting Jewish!” He underscored the word acting.

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