A weekly Torah class and lunch for senior citizens in Miami Beach, Fla., boasted some big-name talent last week when world-famous Jewish comedian Jackie Mason introduced Chabad-Lubavitch Rabbi Zev Katz.

Chutzpah!” Mason berated the crowd amidst peels of laughter. “It takes me coming to the Seniors’ Club for all of you to step foot into a synagogue?”

In truth, however, most of the 90 attendees have been going to the weekly Lunch N’ Learn sponsored by the Chabad House on Wheels for quite some time. Katz, who together with his wife Chani has been directing the center for 10 years, said that the last-minute appearance by Mason was entirely the entertainer’s idea.

“He asked us how much it would cost to sponsor,” related Katz, “and then, with only a day’s notice, 90 people showed up.”

The Katzes met Mason about three months ago through two rabbinical students working for them, Yaakov Pearson and Nosson Levilev. The pair were taking the Chabad House’s mobile outreach center on its daily route through the community and the tourist hotspot of Lincoln Road when they came upon Mason at a local ice cream shop. Since then, the two have made regular trips to visit with the comedian, who one day asked about sponsoring the next seniors’ event.

“You should come,” was Pearson’s reply.

The comedian performed a short routine and introduced Rabbi Zev Katz, who led a Torah class.
The comedian performed a short routine and introduced Rabbi Zev Katz, who led a Torah class.

Heart of Gold

During his routine, Mason said that he supports the Katzes’ work, because it “strengthens Judaism.”

“It’s my way of making up for not being a practicing rabbi,” he quipped.

Mason also related some of his recollections of meeting the Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem M. Schneerson, of righteous memory.

He told the crowd that he had originally been worried about seeing the Rebbe, whom he figured would just berate him “to be a better Jew.” Instead, the Rebbe wished him success in making people happy.

“Jackie Mason has a heart of gold,” said Larry Green, a 51-year-old vacationer from Los Angeles and personal friend of the comedian, who came to hear Mason’s performance and Katz’s lecture.

After the class, Mason presided over a signing of his new book.

Turning to Pearson, Green lauded the Chabad House for literally going the extra mile to make sure that senior citizens’ needs are met.

“I look at him like my own son,” Green said of the rabbinical student. “Yankee is the future of America.”

Ray Willig, a regular at the Katzes’ synagogue for the past nine years, said that programs such as last week’s class highlighted the success of a Chabad House that just last year saw its building burned down in a suspected arson. A Torah scroll that was stolen has yet to be recovered, but a relief effort has helped the center get back on its feet.

“This is a great community,” said Willig, “and everyone is very supportive.”