Ugly Car, Beautiful Dream
Nobody but a scrap yard scout would give it a second look, but to Igor Zukelman, the rather tired eight-year-old Toyota Cressida was a steel chariot, a three-dimensional symbol of his cherished dream of becoming an American.
Mr. Zukelman, 29, had saved money from the moment he landed in New York in 1992 after leaving his native Ukraine. The day he bought the Toyota -- his first car -- he knew he had embarked on the American dream. He splurged on vanity license plates, a little joke if you knew Ukrainian. The plate said Melkey, the Ukrainian equivalent of "Tiny." Mr. Zukelman weighed more than 230 pounds.
A few minutes after he took the citizenship oath earlier this year, he called his mother, Mara, in Brooklyn and told her, "You can congratulate me now, I'm already a citizen," she said.
Mr. Zukelman enrolled in a computer school, married and had a son, Allan, now 3. The family was moving from Queens to Brooklyn in September. He had a job with the Fiduciary Trust Company and thought that working at the World Trade Center was marvelous.
"He was proud that he worked on the 97th floor where he could see the whole city," said Alexander Shetman, Mr. Zukelman's brother-in-law. In April, a driver jumped a curb on Ocean Boulevard, killing Mr. Shetman's wife and two daughters. He said Mr. Zukelman helped him get through those days, staying with him overnight at the hospital, organizing the funerals, and telling him that everything would be all right.
Profile published in THE NEW YORK TIMES on December 15, 2001.