Photo Credit: Larry Spiewak
From 2014: Larry stands (center) with COJO Flatbush President Moshe Zakheim (left) and First Vice President Leon Goldenberg (right) behind Rabbi Yechezkel Pikus, zt”l.

Editor’s Note: Larry Spiewak will be honored with the Distinguished Chesed Award at the annual COJO Flatbush Community Legislative Breakfast on Sunday, April 7.



Larry Spiewak is a noted communal activist, successful businessman, and devoted husband, father, and grandfather. That’s not exactly news: his shem tov is widely known and admired. But to understand what makes him the man he is, to comprehend what it was that has compelled him, for more than half a century, to give so much of himself to others, one must go back to the unspeakably tragic event he calls “my life’s turning point.”

First, though, one needs to grasp this elemental fact about Larry: As the lone child of Holocaust survivors, he had an unbreakable bond with his parents, who doted on him as only a couple that had endured years of horror and hopelessness could. To Beno and Hela Spiewak, their son represented dazzling light after so much darkness – a living affirmation of the promise expressed in Tehillim (Psalms) 30: “Weeping may endure for the night, but rejoicing comes in the morning.” He, in turn, treated them with an unusual level of deference and respect that was evident to anyone who had any interaction with the family – including the legendary Rabbi Dovid Trenk, who on several occasions made it a point, in front of a roomful of students, to laud Larry’s devotion to his parents.

What sparked Rabbi Trenk’s admiration was the sheer amount of time Larry spent, as a youngster and then as a teenager, helping his parents in their East Flatbush candy store. One of his responsibilities entailed putting together the various sections of the Sunday newspapers, a tedious job that required waking up well before sunrise on Sundays and working through the early morning hours. As a result, Larry at times found himself nodding off during his Sunday classes at Mirrer Yeshiva. For this he was often reprimanded by his teachers – until Rabbi Trenk became his rebbi.

As Yisroel Besser recounts in his biography of Rabbi Trenk, Just Love Them: “Rabbi Trenk would wait until Larry opened his eyes, and then start rhapsodizing about the glory of the teenager’s kibbud av va’eim [honoring mother and father]. ‘What you are zocheh to do for your parents, every single week,’ Rebbi said, addressing not just one talmid, but the whole class, ‘is so special, you’re incredible.’”

Larry would remain close with Rabbi Trenk for the rest of his beloved teacher’s life, and credits him with imparting “the most important life lessons to his students, chief among them the beauty of living a life filled with empathy for others.”

It was shortly after completing his final year at Mirrer Yeshiva, as he was looking forward to starting Baruch College, that Larry’s life was suddenly, shockingly, incomprehensibly shattered. At around 6 A.M. on Friday, August 21, 1971, two gunmen walked into the Spiewaks’ candy store and asked for apple pie. When the Spiewaks told them they had no apple pie and offered them Danish pastry instead, one of the men shot Beno, killing him instantly. When Mrs. Spiewak screamed, the other gunman shot her, leaving her critically wounded.

The crime garnered front-page headlines in the city’s newspapers and received extensive coverage on radio and television, as did Beno Spiewak’s funeral, which, as The New York Times reported, drew a huge turnout of mourners, with the chapel’s 310 seats all filled and several hundred other mourners standing in the aisles and lobby.

For Larry, who’d been home at the time of the shootings, the idyllic existence he’d always known was instantly turned upside-down. “My father was 60, my mother a few years younger,” he recalls. “Both of them were popular in the community, with Jews and non-Jews alike; they had a nice circle of family, friends, and neighbors; their store had been a local fixture for years. And now, in the blink of an eye, my father was gone and my mother severely wounded, with a bullet lodged next to her heart. The doctors were afraid that attempting to remove the bullet could prove fatal, so for the next 35 years my mother lived every day of her life with that bullet inside her.”

With his father murdered and his mother left in a precarious state over something as ridiculously trivial as a piece of pie, it might have been understandable had Larry come away from such a personal calamity with an embittered soul and a dark take on life. Instead, he was able to summon the internal lessons he’d learned from his parents and other role models, notably teachers like Rabbi Trenk, about perseverance and faith and empathy for others no matter how bleak a given circumstance.

“It’s unfortunate,” says Larry, “but often it takes a major upheaval to cause someone to value things that people – especially young people – normally take for granted. What happened on August 21, 1971, taught me the importance of looking after and taking care of your parents, because they’re not going to be around forever. And once you start appreciating that, your concern expands to your other relatives, and then to friends, and then to acquaintances, and then to the larger community around you. At that point I realized that whatever course my life would take, I wanted – needed – to have some kind of role in helping others.”

That need to help others has been the focal point of Larry’s life. Even as a busy young entrepreneur starting a new business – Kwik Ticket, which supplies garment tags and related items to many of the world’s largest and most prestigious retail establishments and which is still going strong 45 years after its founding – Larry made time for community endeavors, and his involvement only grew over the years.

The organizations and institutions that have benefited from his participation constitute a Who’s Who and a What’s What of New York communal life: Chai Lifeline, Yeshivah of Flatbush, Tzivos Hashem, Beth-El Jewish Center of Flatbush, Just One Life, and COJO Flatbush, among others. Larry has served each of them tirelessly in various key capacities – board member, board chairman, trustee, officer – helping them maximize their impact on countless numbers of individuals and families.

His association with COJO Flatbush began when he was introduced to the agency’s then-executive director, Rabbi Yechezkel Pikus. In short time, Larry became a Board member, then Vice President, and then Chairman, the title he holds today.

His enthusiasm about the work of COJO Flatbush is evident whenever the subject is raised. “First, we have an extraordinary Board of Directors, led by my colleagues Moshe Zakheim, our President, and Leon Goldenberg, our First Vice President. And I can’t say enough good things about our Chief Executive Officer, Louis Welz, and Shulamis Shapiro, our Director of Social Services, and the excellent staff they’ve assembled.”

He notes that “COJO’s mandate to serve the entire community is something of which I’m particularly proud. Every year COJO Flatbush helps tens of thousands of clients with Adult Education, Immigration Law, Tax Prep, Benefits and Entitlements, Housing, Financial Management, Senior Services through our Pikus Senior Enrichment Programs, Summer Youth Employment, and Holiday Food Distributions – and we do it guided by the belief that every problem is an opportunity and every client is family.”

Speaking of family, Larry’s wife of 49 years, Mindy, shares his dedication to community activism, having served in various capacities for organizations such as Just One Life, Chai Lifeline, and Sar-El – Volunteers for Israel (under the auspices of which she traveled to Israel to work on Israeli Army bases). She’s also an ardent advocate of blood and platelet donation, setting a personal example for others in that regard.

The Spiewaks have instilled the spirit of community service in their four children, and their grandchildren (seven at present) will, no doubt, continue to carry on the family tradition.

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Jason Maoz served as Senior Editor of The Jewish Press from 2001-2018. Presently he is Communications Coordinator at COJO Flatbush.