|taken from Facebook
"God causes a tree to grow overnight, to grow and to give shade to Jonah. And then as suddenly as the tree had grown, it suddenly disappears. It was there one moment, with its life affirming vitality and energy and Jonah got to see it grow, its branches to spread out and leaves to flourish. It was something Jonah expected to be there, but then just as suddenly it been there, so just as suddenly it was gone.”
This reading from the Book of Jonah 4:6 was recited during the beginning of Benjamin Zukoff’s memorial service on January 30. A third year student in the Woodworking and Furniture Design program, Zukoff passed away on the morning of January 28 after a nearly yearlong battle with a very rare form of cancer known as Desmoplastic small-round-cell tumor. After the battle began last spring quarter, he underwent through various treatments and surgeries until his sudden death last month.
Ever since he arrived on campus, Zukoff was a very active member of the on-campus Jewish organization, Hillel. “He was definitely a known face at Hillel,” said Kourtney Spaulding, the current Hillel program director. “When he got here, it was a very natural fit for him to just go find the Jewish community and get involved.” Even when he wasn’t on the Hillel student board, he helped in whatever way he could, whether it was using his truck to get the kosher grill from the University of Rochester to designing a bookcase for the new Hillel office space.
His passion for his Jewish religion and Israel led him to visit the country over three times during and before his arrival at RIT. He went as part of the Diller Jewish Teen leadership program and on a trip titled “March of the Living,” which sent students to visit the concentration camps in Poland, speak to Holocaust survivors and make a final trip to Israel.
“He convinced us we should let him make this trip by telling us that he needed to be personal witness to what happened to our people so he could speak out when needed” said Paul Zukoff, his father, at the memorial service via a live stream.
Aaron Jackendoff, fourth year Industrial Design major, and Steve DuBois, a third year Computer Science major both met Benjamin through Hillel and its various events like the Shabbat dinners. “I remember he was always really friendly,” said DuBois. “I can honestly say he was one of those few really genuinely nice people you meet. I’ll always remember him for that.”
Zukoff was not only known in the Jewish community but created very close bonds within his major and actively worked with the Tech Crew. “The wood majors are in their studios 24/7, and it was a very small program so they were pretty close,” said Jackendoff.
The sudden death and funeral did not allow many of his friends to arrange a visit. Some were able to go and offer rides to others that were interested while some stayed and viewed a live stream of the funeral in the Religious Life Center.
Zukoff’s influence on the people in his life and at RIT will not be easily forgotten. “His great attributes and characteristics that people have written on Facebook and messages, they want to carry on because he’s not going to be there,” said Kourtney. “We all need to take in a little bit of who he was since he won’t be here, to treat people the way he treated people.”