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Larry King and the Pintele Yid

 Last Shabbat, Larry King, an American media icon, passed away due to COVID-19. Unbeknownst to many his real name was Leibel Zeiger. Despite the fact that he didn’t live a traditional lifestyle, he became very involved in helping Aish HaTorah connect Jews to Judaism. He personally reconnected to his own Orthodox roots as well. How did this happen? That’s the topic of my first blogpost, written by the person who made it happen, R. Irwin Katsof. Speaking of Aish HaTorah, this week is the yahrzeit of Aish’s legendary founder Rav Noah Weinberg. Therefore, in my second blogpost, I share with you insights from R. Yaakov Salomon, one Rav Noah’s primer students, about what would Rav Noah say regarding what’s going on in the world today. 

Larry King's Enormous HeartLarry King's Enormous Heart
By Rabbi Irwin Katsof

I met Larry King in 1995. Together with my production colleague Lou Rudolph, Aish Hatorah was attempting to launch an international satellite broadcast to bring awareness to the Jewish community about the plight of Soviet Jews. It was called “Help our People Know” and it was failing dismally.

Then a friend of Lou’s announced she had bumped into Larry King at the hairdresser at the Beverly Wilshire hotel and asked him if he'd meet her rabbi about a project to help Russian Jews. He said sure and minutes later we were racing over to the hotel.   

On the way to his room, I asked Lou, "What should we ask him?”

"Ask him to be the on-air host of the satellite broadcast."

I was petrified. I am going to ask Larry to host the broadcast of a small, and at the time, relatively unknown organization? We had 100 people signed up. Larry had one million plus viewers a night. You've got to be kidding. There was no way he'd agree to go on air with us.

We walked into his suite. I will always remember his warm, gracious welcome. He bellowed from his armchair, "Rabbi, how can I help you?” I muttered softly and in embarrassment, "Well we have this idea of an international broadcast to help Soviet Jews. Would you be the on-air host?"

"Of course," he replied. "What else can I do for you?"

Ten minutes later he had called Jeffrey Katzenberg, Chairman of Dreamworks and Sumner Redstone, Chairman of Paramount Studios and gotten them to agree to be the Co- Chairmen and to give us a sound stage at Paramount studios to produce the broadcast. As they say in Hollywood, the rest is history. The project took off and raised over one million dollars.

This was the first of many projects Larry would undertake to help the Jewish people and Aish HaTorah.

I cannot recall him ever saying no to anything I asked of him.

“Larry, we want to bring a group of leading American Jewish businessmen on a mission to Israel. Would you lead the mission?”

"Of course, Rabbi. Done. What else can I do for you?"

That trip ended up including Howard Schultz, Founder of Starbucks, Barry Sternlicht, Chairman of Starwood Hotels, the world's largest hotel group at the time, Lady Margaret Thatcher, the co-founder of AOL, and then Senator Joe Biden.

“Larry, We would like to bring them to meet with the Prime Minister of Israel. Would you arrange it for us?”

"Of course Rabbi, done. What else can I do?"

“Larry, we would like to hold a gala dinner in the Knesset. Can you arrange this for us?”

"Of course Rabbi, done. What else?"

“Larry, we'd like to bring this group on the first-ever visit to meet with King Hussein of Jordan, in the Palace. Can you call King Hussein and make this happen?"

"Of course, Rabbi. My pleasure. Done."

Behind the scenes, quietly and with little fanfare Larry, who I always called by his Hebrew name, Leibel Zeiger, was working for the Jewish people. He was not afraid to ask others to help and he was even eager to use his fame and name recognition to do good. There was a spark deep within him that acknowledged his Jewish roots and wanted a connection with his people.

When I reflect on all that he did to help our outreach efforts, I am in awe of the power of the "pintele Yid" -- that Jewish spark resting within us all, just waiting for the right conditions to be brought back to life. Larry was steeped in Hollywood but his Jewish soul was yearning to be ignited.  He would often tell me he was an atheist but he respected people who had faith. We discussed belief in God and we would study Torah together.

I suggested we write a book together about famous people and their journeys to God and spirit. Naturally, he agreed. Out of this was born “Powerful Prayers: Conversations on faith, hope and the human spirit with today’s most provocative people."

We interviewed 100 famous people about their connection to God and prayer and the role God played in their life. It made Publisher Weekly’s ten bestselling religious books of the year. It sold over 130,000 copies. In the book we interviewed everyone from the Dalai Lama to Karim Abdul Jabbar, from President Bush to Prime Minister Peres. Their belief and trust in God touched Larry deeply. It was a struggle for him to change his position on God, but it gave him pause and caused him to reflect about his Jewish roots.

He agreed to a meeting with Rabbi Noah Weinberg and was moved by Rabbi Weinberg’s great energy and promised to help him. He talked with him about the power of the Jewish people and Larry talked fondly of his roots in Brooklyn and of his grandparents in Eastern Europe.

Larry King

I will always remember Larry for his enormous heart and his willingness to help the Jewish people. His life touched mine and the book we wrote together reached tens of thousands and helped them examine their connection to God. Behind the glitz of Hollywood, Larry was a kind, caring soul who recognized his Jewish roots and used his fame to help the Jewish people. I appreciate all he did for me. He helped make the world better and will be missed by myself and many across the globe.


What Would Rabbi Noah Weinberg Do?
By Rabbi Yaakov Salomon

No matter where you sit on the political spectrum, we can all agree that the world, and more so, the USA, is in turmoil. The devastating pandemic and governmental upheaval dominate our daily lives and confound our thinking.

Where do we turn? Who can offer direction? Perspective? Solace?

Had we been in this maelstrom of mayhem and chaos some years ago, many of us would have turned to our mentor and spiritual guide, Rabbi Noah Weinberg o.b.m. His inimitable and erudite persona soothed and guided hundreds of thousands of Jews of every walk of life, during times of trouble and confusion.

What would he say to us today? Would he offer any wisdom that might make a difference in how we navigate these stormy waters of life in 2021?

I imagine he would.


I watch from Above with a mixture of pain, anguish, and frustration. So I am pleased that you reached out to ask for my opinions, my points of view, and my help. (That’s the way it works up here. We cannot offer our assistance unless it is requested.)

Let’s begin.

Forgive me for being blunt (that hasn’t changed), but the world’s response to this Corona thing was way off the mark. The Almighty has a plan and a purpose to everything He brings. There are no coincidences in life. I always reminded you that He loves you more than you can ever imagine. Therefore, as much you suffer from this deadly plague, He actually “suffers” more. 

Is it a wake up call? Of course it is. No one likes to hear that. But his punishments are not vindictive, they are instructive. Big difference.

So here’s the problem. He sent Corona. Many people died. It was tragic. I’m not getting into the mask thing or the lockdowns. That’s for you guys to work out. But it was supposed to wake people up to change. To be different. To be better. Better friends. Better spouses. Better parents. Better Jews. Better people! How many people do you know that have really changed in the past 10 months?

Remember what I taught you:

Every day, set aside time to ask these questions:

  • What am I living for?
  • Review your day and ask: What do I need to change?
  • What am I going to do about it?

Watch. When enough people start changing, the disease will vanish.

Now, I know you are convinced that the world has gone insane. Looking down on the events of this past year or so, which I have done, makes it hard for me to argue with that. But I have always said the battle for life is the battle for sanity. To a certain extent, we are all crazy. But if you are aware of it you prevent the insanity from taking over.

Which brings me to another vital point. With all the daily drama you encounter, you’ve become news junkies – addicted to your phones and devices. Most of it is a waste of your precious brain cells. Need I remind you that killing time is like committing suicide on the installment plan. Imagine if you used that time to better understand yourself, your purpose, and the meaning of your life. If you don’t know yourself, you don’t know anything. Now that is a worthwhile investment.

I recall from the temporary world that I used to inhabit that a lot of people wanted to understand themselves better but didn’t know how to do it. You know my answer for that. Torah. That’s where the wisdom is. That’s how to fight ignorance.

The most virulent disease in the world is ignorance. Ignorance can kill you.

It spreads throughout entire societies and is extremely difficult to combat, especially since the victim is usually not aware he has been infected.

By following the guidelines that the Almighty gave us – in the Torah – we can fulfill our purpose in the world.

So stop the nonsense. Push out all the noise. Don’t constantly worry about who is President or Prime Minister or in the Cabinet. I guarantee you that the Almighty can handle that. Your job is to keep your eye on the ball. Got it?

Something else that concerns me is that many of you look around at the current state of affairs and respond by becoming despondent and pessimistic. Dare I say, a lot of people seem actually hopeless. There is something very wrong with that. My life down there was full of failures and disappointments. Before Aish, every organization and yeshiva that I started went nowhere. Had I given up, my legacy would have been zero.

Every human being has moments and even chapters in his life when he feels that he can’t go on. The fight is just not worth it. The burden is too great. Don’t be afraid of those thoughts and emotions. Use them to sharpen and refine your true purpose. Pick yourself up and out of the doldrums. Study. Accomplish. Communicate. Don’t be a spectator. Lead. And you need not be loud to lead. Many lead by example, by becoming great role models. Yes…even you can lead.

And finally, I need to remind you that you have a weapon in your arsenal that is potent, persuasive, and powerful – and under-utilized. It’s called Prayer. Prayer is the skeleton key that gives you entry to every door that seems shut or out of reach. Simultaneously, it soothes the soul and stirs the heavens. It orders your priorities and unlocks the portals of mercy, clarity, and blessing. It is an eloquent demonstration of your desire to establish a meaningful relationship with your Creator. And yet, so many squander or misuse this mighty opportunity.

There may be tough times ahead. As you know, Mashiach beckons. Turmoil and societal disorder is likely to accompany his arrival. A few short minutes of daily, heartfelt prayer, in any language, can go a long way in helping you cope, discern, and affect change.

Life can be tough. But the Almighty put us here to access all the pleasures that He fashioned. The pain that so often comes is the currency we use to get maximum pleasure. Without that pain and effort, there is no meaning.

Be strong. Be wise. Count your blessings, but also make your blessings count.