Philanthropist Renée Zuritsky Dies at 76

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Joseph and Renee Zuritsky in January 2019
Joseph and Renee Zuritsky in January 2019 (Photo by Jesse Bernstein)

Philadelphia native Renée Zuritsky, who was known for her philanthropic work and as an arts patron, died Feb. 10. She was 76.

The wife of Parkway Corp. parking company Chairman Joseph Zuritsky was remembered for her positive attitude and strong spirit.

“My mother had a rare combination of selflessness and thinking of others before herself, yet she was dignified and strong,” daughter Elisa Zuritsky said. “She put other people’s feelings and thoughts before her own.”

“I’m just in awe of how much honest devotion Renée seems to have here in Philadelphia, and I’m not sure she knew that,” sister Hedy Frisch said.

Renée Zuritsky grew up in Germantown, the middle of three children of Maurice and Goldie Stern, who sold appliances and furniture at a North Broad Street store. She graduated from Cheltenham High School and earned a bachelor’s degree from the University of Pennsylvania.

On a 1960 trip to Israel, she befriended a couple from the United States that became her in-laws — the parents of Joseph Zuritsky. They married three years later.
The success of Parkway Corp. afforded the Zuritskys the opportunity to become philanthropists.

A January 2019 Jewish Exponent article detailed the couple’s support of 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, among others.

A few months earlier, the Zuritskys’ decades of service to the National Museum of American Jewish History were honored at a massive gala.

“It comes down to gratitude,” Renée Zuritsky said in the Exponent article. “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.”

Elisa Zuritsky said her parents “were never good at saying no to people in need. She always had an open heart and hand.”

Aside from philanthropy, Renée Zuritsky loved the arts both in Philadelphia and New York City, where she often traveled to visit her daughter. Locally, she was an avid patron of the Philadelphia Orchestra, Philadelphia Museum of Art, Walnut Street Theatre and the Gershman Philadelphia Jewish Film Festival.

“(My parents’) social calendar was always filled,” Elisa Zuritsky said. “They were out almost every night together.”

One of her greatest loves was working with the Mural Arts Philadelphia program and its founder and executive director Jane Golden. Her daughter described it as a perfect outlet for her.

“She was a lover of beauty in the world,” Elisa Zuritsky said. “She loved making a place and peoples’ lives look and feel better.”

Connecting with people was something Renée Zuritsky excelled at, according to Frisch.

Frisch described reading emails to her sister from friends and acquaintances who had learned she was seriously ill.

“They all said, ‘Renée was my best friend,’” Frisch said. “She had no idea she affected so many people.”

Frisch told how her sister once advertised for an au pair when her children were small and interviewed a Muslim woman from Egypt. The woman, Nabila El-Shanawi, first said she couldn’t take the job because it would be uncomfortable working for a Jewish woman. But El-Shanawi called back a few hours later and took the job because she liked Renée Zuritsky so much.

El-Shanawi worked for the family for a couple years and recently called Frisch, describing Renée Zuritsky as her best friend.

“I always got nice feedback about (my mom),” son Rob Zuritsky, now the president of Parkway Corp., said, noting that when his parents moved back into Center City, his mother made an immediate impact. “She would always try to do good things and seemed to make nice impressions.”

Rob Zuritsky, Elisa Zuritsky and Frisch all agreed that family remained paramount to Renée Zuritsky.

Elisa Zuritsky remembered how when her mother made her frequent trips to New York, she always found time to visit her and her grandchildren in Brooklyn.

Rob Zuritsky detailed Sunday brunches with his mother and her parents, not to mention plenty of cousins.

And Frisch said her sister — who was 10 years older and a product of the 1950s — helped raise her in the more tumultuous 1960s.

“She was like my mother and defender,” she said. “I don’t know how I would have grown up without her as my sister.”

Renée Zuritsky is survived by her husband Joseph, son Rob, daughters Elisa and Anna Boni, sisters Lydia Rubin and Hedy Frisch, and nine grandchildren.

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