On the 10th floor of the North Broad Street office where the Parkway Corp. is headquartered, Joseph and Renee Zuritsky want to talk about two things: fish and history.
Joseph Zuritsky, a political power player for decades in Philadelphia, has a resume that astounds. Born to immigrant parents — both from patches of land tugged back and forth between Poland, Russia and Ukraine — he took their handful of parking lots and turned them into a phenomenally successful parking company that is ubiquitous in the city.
At various times, he and his wife have thrown their support behind the Jewish National Fund, the Jaffa Institute, the Anti-Defamation League, the American Jewish Committee, Mural Arts Philadelphia, Technion Institute and Jack M. Barrack Hebrew Academy, and are among the largest individual donors to City Council members and candidates. Back in October, the Zuritskys’ decades of service to the National Museum of American Jewish History (NMAJH) were honored in a massive gala. They’ve been with the museum since it was a single room in Congregation Mikveh Israel.
But the centerpiece of the office is the floor-to-ceiling artificial koi pond, filled with fish bred by Zuritsky himself — false rock formations draped with fauna and plastic birds of prey that dribble water into the two ponds.
“They’re his passion,” Renee Zuritsky said as her husband tossed feed into the pond, drawing the gaping mouths of the koi to the surface to suck in air and pellets. Joseph Zuritsky noted that they are mostly males, much smaller and thinner than the prized females.
He’s been interested in this particular type of fish for decades.
“I discovered them as a young man,” he told The Philadelphia Inquirer last spring. “I was always interested in fish and animals and trees and birds, and everything concerned with Mother Nature.” Last spring was also when he gave away his 43-acre breeding farm in Carney’s Point, N.J., donating it to Rowan University for research purposes. His son, Robert, is the president and CEO of Parkway, while his daughter, Anna, is a vice president. His other daughter, Elisa, is a television writer, producer and showrunner, and what all three have in common is that they were not interested in taking over the farm, thus cementing the patriarch’s difficult but necessary decision.
Still, he and Renee Zuritsky are quite happy to talk about their work with NMAJH. Fittingly, the two of them are vessels for what the history of Jewish Philadelphia has been through.
Both are the children of immigrants (her father emigrated from Sighet, Romania, which is also Elie Wiesel’s hometown). Both have an abiding love of history, and both of their parents began their business careers in Philadelphia, his in parking, hers in appliances and then furniture, sold out of a store near one-time landmark Fisher’s Restaurant on North Broad.
His father was one of 12; her mother was one of 10, packed into a house in Northern Liberties. Both remember fondly that their parents “gave back to the community. They understood that they were fortunate,” Renee Zuritsky said. She still remembers the fervor of her father’s work to take care of the members of his family that survived the Holocaust.
Perhaps it’s fitting, then, that they’ve focused as much as they have on NMAJH; both are on its board of directors.
Joseph Zuritsky wishes that younger generations of Jews who are in a position to give as he does learn from history and take it as inspiration.
“Besides liking history, it’s vitally important, especially for young Jews, to understand their history, our history, their ancestors’ history, here and in the world. When you understand it, you can value it,” he said.
For him, that feeling translates into giving to as wide a variety of charities as possible, but that feeling, he fears, may be missing from younger Jews.
The Jewish community in Philadelphia, he said, “is sizable, but its giving level is puny in comparison to other cities. Much smaller communities give much more.”
“It comes down to gratitude,” Renee Zuritsky said. “If you understand your blessings, and you feel grateful for what you have — and we all have a lot to be grateful for — giving back is a very natural response in living.”
“Kids today, I’m not sure they realize how lucky they are to be here,” Joseph Zuritsky added.