Haim Zukerman (’73)

Category: Accomplished Alumni | Awards

Haim (’73), Batia (’79), and Benjamin Barak (’01) Zukerman have funded scholarships for 139 architecture students—so far.
Haim Zukerman was recruited for UT’s new School of Architecture while he was in Tel Aviv, Israel, in 1967. It was just weeks after the Six-Day War. “I walked into my parents’ home in full uniform, an Uzi at my side,” remembers Zukerman, who was then in the second of his three years in the Israeli Army. “I was covered in sweat and sand after five weeks on duty in the desert.”

Zukerman’s father’s Uncle Abe was visiting from Chattanooga, Tennessee, where he and eight of his brothers had immigrated from Russia during World War One. Abe was inspired by the vision of his great nephew looking like a hero. “He invited me to Chattanooga,” remembers Zukerman. “He said, ‘I know everybody at the University of Tennessee. We have a brand new school of architecture.”
Haim’s father, Mathew, had left Stalinist Russia for Israel in 1933, and Haim was born in 1947, a year before the nation of Israel was created. Mathew, a civil engineer, owned a construction company, Cideco International, that built residential and commercial public projects. When Haim was eight, Mathew opened offices in Ghana and Nigeria and moved his family to Accra, Ghana, and later to Lagos, Nigeria. At 14, Zukerman was sent to Whittingehame College, a prep school in Brighton, England. After graduation, he entered the army.

In 1968, Zukerman met another soldier, Batia Hafter. “She was this cute young person with two stripes on her shoulder,” Zukerman recalls. “In those days you got married. So we got married.”
After he got out of the army in August 1969, he flew to New York and drove a blue 1966 Mustang to Abe’s house in Chattanooga. Together, they drove to Knoxville. “I applied to UT on the 27th of December and started on January 4,” he remembers. “They were very generous in giving me two years of credits— for subjects like economics, classics, an advanced level General Certificate of Education from the University of London, and ROTC for being in the army. I felt extremely welcome. People invested in me. I made a lot of friends.”

In 1975, after Zukerman got his master in architecture degree at Pratt Institute in Brooklyn, New York, he and Batia returned to Knoxville. She entered the University of Tennessee to begin working toward a bachelor of fine arts degree in painting and sculpture under C. Kermit “Buck” Ewing, and Zukerman started Cideco Architecture and Planning. Over the years, Zukerman worked on renovations including the Arnstein Building on Market Square, the Andrew Johnson Hotel, the Radisson Hotel (now the Crowne Plaza), and half of the design work on Thompson-Boling Arena.

“In 1982 I got out of the cocoon,” says Zukerman. “We stopped having work after the World’s Fair, so we closed our architecture firm and moved to Atlanta. I started being a developer.” He started Cideco Development Co. Inc., which designed, built and developed office and commercial projects in nine states with its retail clients. In addition to residential community developments, Cideco had a hand in historic renovations and charitable work in the communities where it operated.

His son, Benjamin Barak Zukerman, graduated from Georgia Tech in 1996. Haim guided him toward the UT College of Architecture and Design’s master’s program. “If you go to UT for a couple of years,” I told him, “you’ll get to know people and make great friends and great contacts.” Benjamin Barak graduated from UT with a master in architecture degree in 2001, worked at design firms in Atlanta for six years, joined Cideco in 2007, and took over the firm in 2012.

Around that time, several parcels of land the Zukermans had donated to UT were sold. From the proceeds and cash donations, they created a scholarship endowment for architecture students. So far, more than 139 scholarships have been awarded. “We get a bunch of letters from students who received the scholarship,” says Zukerman. “We appreciate them.”

These days Zukerman and Batia spend four months a year in Atlanta and four months in Tel Aviv. “The rest of the time, we’re traveling.” This includes time aboard their 70-foot yacht Always Something, most recently moored in the cerulean waters off Athens, Greece.

In spring 2018, Zukerman and his son returned to campus to present scholarships to three current students, and the family—Haim, Batia, Barak and Hollie—returned to campus in November 2019 to meet the latest Zukerman scholars. During this visit, Haim was pleasantly surprised with an Accomplished Alumnus Award presented by dean of the College of Architecture and Design, Scott Poole. “We love UT and will continue to support this great university,” Zukerman said.

“For me, UT was a fantastic stepping stone to get going in life and then later in business. To me, the real character of the United States is from middle America states, like Tennessee. I made a lot of friends. I made some money. Life is good.”