To Jackie Mason, Queens – more specifically Kew Gardens Hills – was a home away from home. His revered brother, Rav Dov Berel (Bernard) Maza z”l, led Beis Medrash RE”M, opposite Bet Midrash TOV at 68th Drive and 147th Street, and Cong. Emunah Shleima, also in Kew Gardens Hills. RE”M, an acronym for his saintly father Rav Eliyahu Mordechai Maza, meant that Mason would forever be connected to Kew Gardens Hills, visiting at times. Mason, along with his Yiddish locutions, held dear his love for cantorial renditions, sometimes belting them out on stage, occasionally choosing to begin with a Keil Malei. At times, he was seen at the Young Israel of Forest Hills for S’lichos leading up to the High Holidays, as verified by community member Howard Schoenfeld, among others.
Purim time also held a soft spot for Mason, who was seen during the 1990s walking Main Street as part of the now-defunct Purim Parade alongside United States Senator Al D’Amato and activist Dov Hikind.
Mason, like his rabbinical brothers, was a kohen who lived true to the mission of kohanim – to make others in his circle feel blessed. Mason chose to bestow this blessing through his signature wit and humor. His given surname, Maza, is an acronym for mi’zera Aharon HaKohen, literally translated as “from the seed of Aharon HaKohen.”
Mason is also credited with tutoring Rav Binyamin Kamenetzky z”l, of Yeshiva of South Shore in English. When Mason was just a second grader at Mesivta Tifereth Jerusalem (MTJ), Rav Binyamin, then known simply as Benny, was a new European immigrant with little English skills. Mason, like his brothers, later acquired s’michah from Rav Moshe Feinstein, zt”l.
At Mason’s 1991 nuptials to Jyll Rosenfeld, Rabbi Jonathan Sacks z”l, then Chief Rabbi of the United Kingdom, officiated. Mason is survived by his wife, daughter Sheba Mason, who continues on his comedic path, his sister Gail Schulman, a longtime member of the Young Israel of Kew Gardens Hills, and their brother Rabbi Gabriel Maza, along with many nieces and nephews who continue in the path of Torah.
But the world according to Mason was a bit complicated. Born Yaakov Moshe Maza to a prestigious line of rabbinical figures dating back many generations, Mason toiled with his chosen path of becoming a rabbi despite having led two notable congregations. Not one wanting to upset his holy father, Mason pushed on with his rabbinic duties, only taking the turn to comedy after his father’s passing.
Mason never shied away from his Jewish roots, often using his love of his heritage and of Israel in his performances. “Jews are the best dressers in the world. They buy the best clothes, the best homes, the best cars. The best of everything. The only thing is, they get it for less,” was one oft-repeated line. “While I have the utmost respect for people who practice the Christian faith, the fact is, as everyone knows, I am as Jewish as a matzah ball or a kosher salami,” was another famous one.
“He was an inspiration in a way where you can tell no matter how old you are that you can still accomplish your goals on stage,” commented Yanky Flusberg, a fellow frum comedian in his early thirties who met his mentor on the streets of New York several times. “Growing up, he was one of my favorite Jewish comedians. When we met, he would stop and take all the time in the world to talk to me.” On his desire to take the stage, Mason told Flusberg, “You do not have to look at age and say, ‘Nah, I am too old for this.’” Mason, who began on the Borscht Belt, continued to kvetch on stage well into his 80s, always being an inspiration to newcomers. Flusberg reacted with his favorite line of Mason’s, “I have enough money to last the rest of my life, unless I want to buy something.” On the topic of wealth and means, Mason famously joked, “Money is not the most important thing in the world. Love is. Fortunately, I love money.”
By Shabsie Saphirstein