Paul Botzman dies at 87 led Bnai Israel of Rossmoor

After school, Ann Katz (née Botzman) used to do her homework in one of the two children's shoe and clothing stores owned by her father in Schenectady, N.Y.

Inevitably, a parent and child would enter.

"Hi, I'm Grandpa Paul," Paul Botzman would tell the child. "How old are you?" If the child said 7, Botzman would answer, "I was never 7."

While Botzman entertained the child, the parent would help Katz with her homework. The customers would stay for hours. And inevitably, she recalled, "he'd forget to sell the shoes."

Botzman died Oct. 19 in Walnut Creek. He was 87.

Botzman was born Feb 10, 1914 in Ivancovitz, Ukraine. His mother was pregnant with him when his father left for the United States, and it wasn't until eight years later that his mother and he could join him. They came to live in the Bronx, N.Y., in 1922.

In 1942, Botzman married Shirley Margolin, and they moved to Schenectady. He was an avid reader and taught Yiddish, as well as Hebrew school. He earned a bachelor's degree in economics from Union College when he was in his early 50s. "Selling was what he did to make money, but his heart was into learning," said Katz.

After retirement, in 1980, the Botzmans moved to the Bay Area to be near their grandchildren. They lived in Oakland and Walnut Creek, where he taught several years of religious school at Temple Sinai and Congregation B'nai Tikvah. Later, the Botzmans moved to Rossmoor, where they joined Congregation B'nai Israel.

Botzman served as president of B'nai Israel for two years.

A "people person," as described by his son-in-law, Ken Katz, Botzman extended his good will not only to children, but also to the elderly. At the age of 83, he began to volunteer with Alzheimer's patients at the Contra Costa Jewish Community Center. He wrote sporadically about his experiences in a column in the Rossmoor Times.

In one, he wrote about how to talk to an Alzheimer's patient, not by asking direct questions, but by speaking about things open-endedly, in the hopes that the subject would trigger a memory.

With a man named Victor, Botzman figured out that they both had a fondness for the same book. Victor could even remember one of the contributors when Botzman couldn't.

"You never know what gems are hidden in people — even those we unjustly classify as 'damaged goods,'" he wrote in one column. "And when you uncover one of these surprises, the joy, the excitement, the feeling of accomplishment are indescribable."

Botzman is survived by his wife, Shirley Botzman, of Rossmoor; daughters Ann Katz of Oakland and Judi Nelson of San Luis Obispo; sons-in-law Ken Katz and John Nelson; brothers Abraham Aaroni of Yonkers, N.Y., and Sam Botzman of Sunrise, Fla.; sister Ida Rabitz of Yonkers, N.Y.; and three grandchildren.

Contributions in his memory can be made to the Dorothy and Sidney Millman Respite Center, c/o Contra Costa JCC, 2071 Tice Valley Blvd., Walnut Creek, CA, 94596.

Alix Wall
Alix Wall

Alix Wall is a contributing editor to J. She is also the founder of the Illuminoshi: The Not-So-Secret Society of Bay Area Jewish Food Professionals and is writer/producer of a documentary-in-progress called "The Lonely Child."