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Copyright © 2019 The American Israel Public Affairs Committee

In Memoriam: AIPAC Trailblazer Larry Weinberg

Former AIPAC President Larry Weinberg speaking at the 2009 AIPAC Policy Conference in Washington, D.C. (AIPAC)

On Jan. 1, former AIPAC President Larry Weinberg passed away in Los Angeles at the age of 92. In his extraordinary life, Larry served his country, strengthened the U.S.-Israel relationship and helped shape AIPAC in its formative years.

“AIPAC is saddened by the passing of former AIPAC President Larry Weinberg (z"l) who was a deeply respected leader in the pro-Israel community,” AIPAC said in a press release. “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.”

U.S. Sens. Robert Menendez and Ron Wyden also mourned the loss of their friend Larry.

Sen. Menendez said, “I am deeply saddened to hear of the passing of former AIPAC President Larry Weinberg. Larry's dedication to building and maintaining the strong bonds between the United States and Israel through education and engagement was inspiring and has undoubtedly left a lasting impact for generations to come. As a veteran of World War II, Larry deeply understood the importance of strong alliances with like-minded countries committed to democracy and freedom. I hope his family finds strength during this time of mourning and may his memory be a blessing.”

“Today we mourn the loss of a true mensch, Larry Weinberg,” Sen. Wyden added. “Seeing him and his wonderful wife Barbi cheering at every [Portland Trail Blazers] home game was the essence of [Portland] pride. He was my friend and like many, I will mourn his passing."

Born on Jan. 23, 1926, Larry grew up in Brooklyn, New York. The son of Polish immigrants, he was raised with a strong patriotism, Jewish identity and commitment to service.

At age 17, Larry joined the U.S. Army and deployed to France in 1944. During his military service, he stepped on a land mine. While a new medicine, penicillin, saved his leg from infection, he was forced to undergo surgeries and 11 months of rehabilitation to regain his mobility. For meritorious service in World War II, Larry received a Purple Heart, Combat Infantry Badge and the Bronze Star.

After years of success in the real estate business, in 1970, Larry helped establish a National Basketball Association (NBA) team, the Portland Trail Blazers, of which he was president when they won the NBA championship in 1977.

Larry’s longstanding commitment to the U.S.-Israel relationship was reinforced by the 1967 Six-Day War, when Israel’s Arab neighbors once again sought to destroy the nascent Jewish state. Larry realized that Israel needed a strong partnership with the United States to ensure its survival and wellbeing. In 1969, he and Barbi joined the then-tiny American Israel Public Affairs Committee, and within a decade he would become AIPAC’s president.

“Larry and Barbi Weinberg were the father and mother of modern AIPAC,” said AIPAC CEO Howard Kohr. “Larry exemplified what it means to be both a proud Zionist and a proud American.”

When Larry was the president of from 1976-1982, AIPAC was led by an eight-person steering committee. As president, he began to lay the foundation for AIPAC’s current lay-leader and regional model. “Larry and Barbi were such strong and passionate supporters of Israel, and that made a truly lasting impression. They played a vital role in forming the infrastructure of current-day AIPAC and improved lay-leader involvement significantly,” said former AIPAC President Bob Asher.

In addition to his own involvement, Larry also helped mentor many of AIPAC’s current leaders. “Larry was my mentor and role model for more than 25 years. To say that he encouraged my pro-Israel activism would be an understatement. I simply would not be on the AIPAC Board were it not for Larry Weinberg,” AIPAC Board Member Michael Tuchin said.

Michael bonded with Larry after discovering what motivated him to join the pro-Israel movement. “As a proud young Jewish GI during World War II, Larry was very excited to be summoned by his commander to speak with a member of the Jewish resistance who had been hiding in the forest and fighting the Nazis,” Michael recalled. “Larry expected to be welcomed with open arms by this fellow Jew, who instead spit in Larry’s face and shouted, ‘You came too late!’ Larry was shaken by this experience, and he vowed to do everything in his power to ensure that he, and our country, never came too late again. In the decades since that encounter, Larry has accomplished more on behalf of the Jewish people than anyone could have imagined.”

Known for his gentle nature and passion for the U.S.-Israel relationship, Larry cared so deeply about that relationship that he participated in AIPAC events even when he struggled to physically get around. With Barbi, he helped unite the pro-Israel community from across the political spectrum. Together, they inspired many others to join them, including members of their own family.

Larry is survived by his wife of 71 years, Barbi; their children, Jeff (and Susan), Jan (and Phil), Jimmy (and Leslie) and Julie (and Rand); and 12 grandchildren and 13 great-grandchildren.

Last year, in what would be his final interview for AIPAC, Larry summed up his enduring commitment: “I mentioned at the beginning that I was wounded in 1944, and I promised, I prayed to God that if you save me I'll try to be of help to the Jewish people. I'm now in the homestretch of my life. And I still feel that commitment. And whatever time I have left, I hope I can be good for my wife and my children, my grandchildren, my great-grandchildren. And I hope I can, in some way, fulfill that commitment. It isn't really fulfilled because there's so much to be done, but I try my best to help.”

May his memory be a blessing.

Type Near-East-Report Near East Report