Jerry Stiller’s Last Performance Opens in Heaven
Maybe you knew him as Frank Costanza. Or as Arthur Spooner from The King of Queens. Or as half of Stiller and Meara. I knew him as Latke Larry.
Fifteen years ago, I created the singing action figure Latke Larry as a fundraiser to benefit Friendship Circle — an outgrowth of the Chabad movement that pairs teen volunteers with children who have special needs. Needing a well-known voice, I searched for the most endearing, down-to-earth celebrity I could find to inhabit that character, and realized Jerry Stiller was my man. Not only did he accept, but he also readily agreed to donate his time. He was struck by the opportunity to give thousands of deserving families a lift. Jerry, in his sweet way, was all about making us happy. When he and I were together, walking down the street or eating in a restaurant, we often were stopped by fans who wanted to chat with him. He gladly signed autographs and made them laugh.
When he was born, Jerry’s parents seemed to envision the impact he would make in brightening our lives, for they named him Yosef Yitzchak, which translates to “he will add in laughter.” A story in the Talmud, the compendium of the oral tradition of the Torah, tells of the prophet Elijah presenting two men to a great sage and saying they were destined for the World to Come. Curious about their ticket to the afterlife, the sage asked the men, “What do you do?”
“We are comedians,” they said, “and we cheer up those who are depressed.” That was Jerry.
On Seinfeld, Jerry Stiller’s character Frank Costanza was instructed by his doctor to say “Serenity now!” when he felt his blood pressure rise. As Latke Larry, Jerry ended his song the same way: “Serenity now!” One thing I know: Jerry “Yosef Yitzchak” Stiller, as he ascended to heaven and met a host of paparazzi angels asking him for autographs, said, “I want to talk to the boss.” His message to the King of Kings? “Enough with suffering. Enough with the coronavirus. We get the point. Serenity now!”
Areyah Kaltmann is the Executive Director of Chabad of Columbus, Ohio.