It was back in college—more than 30 years ago—when Marc Zucker first began to get a true appreciation of what it meant to be Jewish.
“At Haverford College there was sort of a pre-cursor to Hillel that brought Jewish students together on Friday nights,” recalled Zucker, who recently took over as chairman of the Pennsylvania Jewish Coalition (PJC), which works to advance social services and related concerns in Harrisburg in conjunction with Jewish Federations throughout the Commonwealth. “It made being Jewish feel cool.
“Then after graduation when I considered different places to spend abroad before going to law school I went to Israel. Exploring my heritage was exciting and I had the most amazing experience.
“That was a pivotal moment both in my engagement with my Jewish heritage and my love of Israel.”
Turn the clock ahead to today and that commitment has remained an essential part of Zucker both personally and professionally. The man who still jokes he deserves credit for bringing the Frisbee to Israel (they referred to it as a “flying plate”) and since gone on to have a successful career as a commercial litigator—handling contractual disputes between companies and other business-related matters—now turns his focus on improving the lives of everyday Pennsylvanians.
And not just Jewish Pennsylvanians he’s quick to emphasize. “Our issues transcend religion,” said the 57-year-old Zucker, who lives near Wynnewood, where he grew up and became a Bar Mitzvah at Temple Beth Hillel-Beth El. “Even though we’re coming at it from the perspective of the Jewish community we typically advance priorities shared by people of many faiths and ethnic backgrounds. The PJC works with the state legislature to make sure to meet social services and needs of the community at large–things like housing subsidies, food subsidies and educational tax credits.”
Because their scope is so encompassing, they try not to let politics enter the equation. “The focus of our work inevitably includes Medicare and Medicaid and issues like that, which is clearly a challenge,” said Zucker, a partner Weir & Partners in Center City. “On the other hand what we advocate cuts across all political boundaries.
“As a faith-based organization Republicans respect what we’re doing and as organization that seeks the most efficient delivery of social services we also appeal to liberals.
“But we’re living in a state with a very tight budget at a time of divisive politics and economic uncertainty. That’s increased the challenge of the PJC to do the work to ensure the preservation and growth of social services in Pennsylvania. “
For Zucker, who dealt with public policy issues like opposing gun violence in his role with the JCRC, it’s been a change. “I’m learning on the job and I know far less than I should,” said Zucker, who succeeded Matt Handel who served six years. “I’m impressed by the commitment of Jewish Federations across the state who want to ensure the comfort and safety of its citizens.
“I’m impressed by the number of successes the PJC has had; the creation of legislation for educating students about the Holocaust and anti-BDS legislation.”
While Zucker has only committed to serving one year at least for now, he’s already recognized what he signed up for doesn’t come with a manual. “I’m juggling quite a few different things,” he admitted. “But to do this job well requires a lot of commitment and I want to do it well. “