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Philip Zucker

posted 22 Jul 2017, 11:43 by Lodzer Shabbat-Bulletin   [ updated 22 Jul 2017, 12:14 ]

Lives lived: Philip Zucker, 98

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Torah scholar. Perfectionist. Survivor. Zaida. Born Nov. 11, 1918, in Serock, Poland; died Feb. 18, 2017, in Toronto, of natural causes; aged 98.

In September 1939, Philip Zucker was taken from his home at the age of 20, leaving behind an extended family and community that would soon perish in the Holocaust. With his passing almost eight decades later, he leaves behind a beloved wife, three daughters, nine grandchildren and 17 great-grandchildren. He also leaves a lasting imprint on the Toronto Jewish community, with many of his students still using his style of Torah-reading and teaching it to the next generation.

Born Feivel Cukier, he was the eldest of six children in a shtetl north of Warsaw. He received a traditional Jewish education and was a star pupil. Without access to technology for recording music, it was his job to learn and remember new Hasidic melodies brought to town by visitors.

The war years brought him to labour camps in northern Russia where many, including his father, died from starvation, disease and extreme cold. He once sold his only coat in exchange for bread, because he felt death from the cold was preferable to death from starvation. But each time he felt that he might succumb to the harsh conditions, there was a miraculous arrival of food or shelter. He later reflected on these experiences by saying, “I was meant to survive.”

He met Chaya (Helen) Tuchman in 1945, and they married in Russia shortly after the war. They returned to postwar Poland to find the devastation that had befallen its Jewish community. After the Kielce pogrom of 1946, the couple fled to Austria and Germany, and eventually to Canada, settling in Toronto, where they raised three daughters.

In Toronto, he found his calling as a professional Torah reader and bar mitzvah teacher. Reading the Torah requires careful preparation in order to pronounce the words correctly and apply the right trope (melodies assigned to the words of the text). He read the weekly Torah portion at Toronto’s Shaarei Shomayim synagogue for more than 40 years. Over 2,000 students learned to read Torah from him.

His Old World authenticity and seriousness had an effect on his students. Some might have been troublemakers in other settings, but in the one-on-one lessons with Mr. Zucker they would work tirelessly. He tolerated no deviation from the precise reading of the text. The trained observer can identify when the Torah is being read by one of his students based on the distinctive melody and the high degree of precision.

His strictness as a teacher contrasted with his warmth and lightheartedness as a zaida, a grandfather. He delighted in spending time with family. At Friday-night dinners, he would share original gems of Torah wisdom, tell stories about his survival during the war, and bounce grandchildren on his knee during the singing of grace after meals. Those who watched Maple Leaf games with zaida remember the sing-song tone of his pessimistic refrain: “They’re going to lose.”

Learning from Philip was like being transported back to a lost Eastern European Jewish world that was more closely connected than ours to the wisdom of ancient Torah scholars. With his passing, a significant link to our past has been lost.

By Eric Stutz, (Philip’s grandson)


Zucker, Philip (Feivel). Holocaust survivor. Passed away peacefully on Shabbat, 22 Shevat, February 18, 2017. Beloved husband of Helen (Chaya). Loving father and father-in-law of Faye and Martin Kellerstein, Shirley and Jeffrey Stutz, and Bella and Joel Shupac. Devoted grandfather of Rebecca (Daniel), Jeremy (Jennie), David (Tali), Eli (Tziona), Adam, Eric (Orli), Aliza (Louis), Jodie, and Joseph. Proud great-grandfather of sixteen.



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