September 19, 2019

Former AIPAC President Larry Weinberg, 92

Lawrence (Larry) Jay Weinberg

Lawrence (Larry) Jay Weinberg, a major contributor to the founding of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), a Purple Heart winner and a prominent homebuilder and philanthropist,  died on Jan. 1. He was 92.

His family sent a message to the Journal stating, “It is with sadness that the family and friends of Larry and Barbi Weinberg mourn the passing of their beloved “Larry,” affectionately known as “Gamu” to his four children, 12 grandchildren, 13 great-grandchildren and their spouses. After a valiant years-long battle with bone marrow cancer, Larry succumbed to his illness at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center, surrounded by his adoring family. He was days short of his 93rd birthday.”

After his death, AIPAC issued a statement saying Weinberg “was a deeply respected leader in the pro-Israel community. Larry and his wife, Barbi, were critical in forging the movement to strengthen the relationship between the U.S. and the Jewish state. Their dedicated efforts over many years educated scores of political and community leaders about the importance of our bipartisan alliance with our democratic ally. Perhaps most importantly, Larry’s example inspired his family to join him in pro-Israel activism.”

Weinberg lived a storied and righteous life, grounded firmly in his Jewish faith, energized by an unshakable American patriotism, tempered by the legacy of the Holocaust and inspired by the miracle of the modern State of Israel. Whatever he achieved in life, he was quick to attribute his success to God and to the unwavering support of Barbi, his wife of 71 years. 

Weinberg was born in Brooklyn, N.Y., on Jan. 23, 1926, to parents who were Jewish emigrees from Augustow, Poland. Along with his younger brother, Bill, Weinberg was raised in a traditional Jewish home where Yiddish was spoken alongside English. He attended the Yeshivah of Flatbush, and later went on to study chemistry at Cornell University under a special U.S. government program for gifted math and science students. 

“Weinberg lived a storied and righteous life, grounded firmly in his Jewish faith, energized by an unshakable American patriotism, tempered by the legacy of the Holocaust and inspired by the miracle of the modern State of Israel.

In September 1943, Weinberg enlisted in the U.S. Army and was sent to France with the 339th Infantry Regiment of 100th Infantry Division, where he fought against the German Winter Line in the forests of the Vosges Mountains. 

On Nov. 12, 1944, while on a reconnaissance patrol, Weinberg was with a soldier who triggered a land mine. Weinberg received the full force of the blast. Lying on the ground for 13 1/2 hours, and after being bayoneted by a German soldier, he was rescued by his friends, that fellow soldier and a Christian chaplain with whom he had become friendly while arranging Jewish services while on the ship to Europe. Two German prisoners were ordered at gunpoint to transport Weinberg back to base camp. 

Weinberg survived 18 blood transfusions and narrowly avoided having his leg amputated. He spent six weeks in a hospital in France and underwent multiple surgeries to save his leg. He then spent 11 months at Cushing General Hospital in Framingham Mass., recovering from his wounds. Honorably discharged in September 1945, Weinberg earned a Purple Heart, the Combat Infantry Badge and later, the Bronze Star for meritorious service in a combat zone. 

Returning home, he met and fell in love with Barbi. The two married the day before Weinberg’s 21st birthday, one week after Barbi turned 18. They moved to Los Angeles in 1947. 

When the U.S. entered the Korean War, Weinberg bought Com-Air Products, Inc., in 1950 and built it into a vital sub-component parts supplier to the U.S. military. 

Using his disability savings and funds borrowed from a lender, Weinberg created the Larwin Group of Companies (a fusion of his first and last names) and built his first four houses. With a loan from his father, he built his first 35 tract houses. By the late 1960s, Larwin was the largest privately owned single-family housing producer in the country. 

A key to Larwin’s success was the development of communities designed around families, featuring modern conveniences and affordable for those entering America’s burgeoning middle class. At its height, Larwin had operations on both U.S. coasts and in more than a dozen states. The company employed more than 2,800 people and generated $500 million in annual revenue. By the 1970s, Larwin was constructing in excess of 8,000 single-family homes and townhouses and 4,000 apartment units per year. Over the years, Larwin built more than 70,000 homes. 

Larwin wasn’t just a business for Weinberg. He saw it as a way to promote the Jewish ideals of social equality and to improve the standard of living for all Americans. At a time when African-Americans were barred by many of the major building companies from buying into predominately white communities, Weinberg made it clear that Larwin would not engage in, or condone, discrimination toward any minority. 

In 1968, Democratic presidential nominee Hubert H. Humphrey asked Weinberg to serve as his Housing and Urban Development cabinet secretary should he be elected president. 

In 1969, Larwin merged with the insurance giant CNA. Weinberg remained chairman of the Larwin building division for the next five years. After leaving the company, he founded Americal Management Co., a diversified real estate investment firm. He served as CEO of Americal until his death. And in the 1980s, Weinberg invested in a deal to bring cable television to Puerto Rico. 

However, one of Weinberg’s most heralded achievements was bringing professional basketball to Portland, Ore. In the 1970s, in partnership with nine other homebuilders, Weinberg bought the Trail Blazers for $3.7 million. He served as president and CEO until 1988, and as chairman of the board of governors of the NBA from 1980 to 1983. 

Weinberg’s strong commitment to, and passion for, Israel was spurred by the Six-Day War and the realization that the survival of the Jewish state could be secured only through an unshakable alliance with the United States. In 1969, he and Barbi joined the three-person American-Israel Public Affairs Committee. By 1976, he had become AIPAC’s president and CEO, expanding and refining its activities and earning the unofficial title of “Founder of Modern AIPAC.” 

His family said that Weinberg’s death is “another reminder that America’s greatest generation is fading from our sight, though not our hearts.”  n