Remembering What Larry King Wrote in “I Am Jewish”

In “I Am Jewish: Personal Reflections Inspired by the Last Words of Daniel Pearl,” prominent Jews, including Larry King, were asked to share thoughts on their Judaism.
January 23, 2021
Larry King (Photo by Rich Fury/Getty Images)

When Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl was brutally murdered in Pakistan in 2002, many Jews were particularly touched by his last words affirming his Jewish identity. In a book edited by Judea and Ruth Pearl titled, “I Am Jewish: Personal Reflections Inspired by the Last Words of Daniel Pearl,” prominent Jews from around the word were asked to share some thoughts on their Judaism.

Here is what the legendary interviewer Larry King, who died today at 87, wrote:

First and foremost, I had nothing to do with being Jewish. Fortunately for me, my parents, Eddie and Jennie from Minsk and Pinsk in Belorussia, respectively, happened to be Jewish themselves. I say fortunately because despite many of the trials and tribulations Jews have faced over the years, I still consider it kind of a blessing to be Jewish.

Now, let’s get this straight: I am not religious. I guess you could say I am agnostic. That is, I don’t know if there is a God or not (if there is I sure have a lot of questions for him—or her). But I’m certainly culturally Jewish. I love the Jewish sense of humor. The shtick of the Jewish comedian burns in me. I love a good joke. I don’t mind jokes about Jews told by Jews. Jewish humor has become universal.

The Yiddish language has many words now in daily use in other cultures all over the world. Is there, for example, a better word than “chutzpah”? It means “gall,” but actually it’s more than gall. Here’s a good illustration of chutzpah: The Jewish women’s organization Hadassah that raises money for Israel opens a fund-raising office in Libya. See what I mean by beyond gall?

And it’s funny, even though I don’t observe all the dietary laws, certain things have stayed with me since early childhood. For instance, I cannot eat meat with a glass of milk. The very thought of it turns my stomach. Jewish dietary laws prescribe that you don’t mix the two. That is almost inbred in me. I don’t observe the Jewish holidays, but I do admit to a certain reverence on Yom Kippur and Rosh Hashanah because it gives me a chance to reflect about my late parents. They were observant Jews. (Where did I go wrong?)

My father died when I was nine and a half and he was forty-three. My mother raised my younger brother and me, never remarrying. She was the classic Jewish mother. My Jewish name is Label, and so to her I was always Labela. I could do no wrong. Everything was for her children. That is Jewish to the core. I used to say that if I blew up a bank, killing four hundred people, my mother would say, “Perhaps they made a mistake in his checking account.”

Judaism is both a religion and a race. It’s an imprint I carry with me everywhere. I was taught to hate prejudice. I was taught the values of loyalty—the values of family. Even though I was not fortunate enough to go to college, I was certainly embedded with strong Jewish values of education and learning, no matter what the form. It is said that if you call a Jewish man in the middle of the night and ask him if you woke him up, he would say no, he was reading a book. The joke on the other side is, why do Jewish women never open their eyes during intercourse? It’s because they can’t stand to see someone else having pleasure. I throw in these little trinkets because they are so Jewish. We are small in number; our impact has been incredible.

We are small in number; our impact has been incredible.

I once asked a noted author, the late Harry Golden, if he ever regretted being Jewish. And he said no because when he dies there are only four possible leaders in the afterlife. They would be Moses, Christ, Karl Marx, and Sigmund Freud. And they were all Jewish so he figured he was on the right team from the start.

I remember how proud I was on my trip to Jerusalem with my brother a few years back. Seeing all of the street signs in Hebrew, feeling a sense of identity and belonging.

One vivid memory of that trip is when I was standing by the Western Wall, known as the famous Wailing Wall, where Jews from all over the world go to pray. A rabbi standing near me was davening (the Jewish form of prayer) when he looked up and said: “What’s with Perot?” It was a funny incident, really hitting me, showing the impact of CNN all over the world. Also on that trip I had the opportunity to visit many Israeli leaders, including spending a day with Yitzhak Rabin, who was campaigning to be prime minister, a job he would eventually win.

Again, having no strong religious affiliation, I must say the trip really hit home to me. The very flavor of Jerusalem stayed with me long after I left. I liked all the people of the region, including the many Palestinians I met. I felt a sense of belonging and I thought a lot about my late parents, who would have loved to step on that soil.

I’ll close with classic Jewish humor. A Jewish grandmother takes her grandson to the beach. He goes in the water and disappears from view. His grandmother falls to the ground crying: “God save him.” Suddenly, the boy washes to shore safe, alive, and breathing. The woman looks at the heavens and says: “He had a hat.”

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