Written By Rabbi Sandford Kopnick, The Valley Temple
When Jerry Springer died last week, Jews all over the world were reading a section of the Torah that included Leviticus 19, the holiness code. And, should one consider The Jerry Springer Show as it was for most of its run, linking Jerry Springer to the idea of holiness would not make sense to most—for not even he thought his show was a significant contribution to the betterment of the world. But, as all who gather here today to mourn the loss of this genuine, honest, authentic, intelligent, devoted, loving, generous, brilliant funny and kind man, there was so much to Gerald Springer. And, as someone who has studied the concept of holiness for a long time, it seems that Jerry could check many of the boxes that easily describe Jerry as that kind of special.
Gerald Springer was born in England during the blitz in 1944. His parents Richard and Margot escaped Germany days before the war began. Gerald and sister Evelyn were born in England, and by the end of the 1940s, the Springers arrived in New York. Soon they moved to Queens and Jerry started school, and was a proud graduate of New York’s Forest Hills High School. Jerry then went to Tulane in New Orleans for undergraduate work, and to Chicago’s Northwestern University for Law School. Jerry was very involved in Bobby Kennedy’s presidential campaign, and after Kennedy’s assassination, Jerry found his way to Cincinnati to begin his law career with Frost-Jacobs. While there, Jerry continued his political activism with Vote Nineteen, a campaign to lower the voting age to 19. When he was 25, he became a candidate for U.S. Congress. A few weeks before the primary, Ohio’s Kent State became a focal point due to the police shootings that became so famous. Jerry’s youth resonated with Cincinnati voters, and he won the primary. He ran a good campaign, but did not win the November election, but politics was now in his blood. Jerry was a celebrated councilman and, since he received the most votes, became mayor for a year, too. After he finished with the Cincinnati City Council, he ran for Governor and more recently contemplated a run for U.S. Senate. Jerry described himself as a “flaming liberal.”
Jerry’s career as a broadcaster began at WLWT-TV Channel 5. The highlight of each broadcast was Jerry’s “final thought.” And while the news was always delivered as objectively as possible, the commentary at the end reflected his personal views. It was very rare that any newscaster was given the opportunity to air a nightly opinion after delivering the news. And it was always put in perspective with the final line, “take care of yourself and each other.”
Jerry’s talk-show began as a straight forward interview program. His intelligence, wit, self-effacing style, and political acumen was something the producers saw as he delivered the news and commentary. Yet, the showed was in a crowded field, and to distinguish it from other similar daytime, it became the format that then lasted for twenty five years. Jerry was very aware that it was entertaining but lacked much value. He certainly understood that its success was his good fortune, and he never ceased to count his blessings by giving back.
In those early years in Cincinnati, while at Frost and Jacobs, he found his wife of almost fifty years, Micki. They would welcome Katie a few years after they were married, and their family was complete. Jerry loved to dote on his daughter. He was proud to welcome Adam to the family, and celebrated Katie’s joy when they married, and loved connecting whenever they together. And becoming Opa, grandpa to grandson Richard was Jerry’s favorite role of all.
Jerry was also blessed to include dear and dedicated friends as family. Gabe Dom and his wife and children are integral in the Springer family, and the love and support they freely gave to each other is a blessing that can never be forgotten, and has never been taken for granted.
Jerry’s two dearest friends, Jene Galvin and Lewis Beck created a three amigos connection that allowed for true friendship. These men shared everything, tried many things, and were counsel to each other as no one else could. Their devotion was not just to each other, but to each other’s families, too
There are many examples from Jerry’s life that show his devotion and loyalty. His connection to the Valley Temple of Cincinnati is among them. When it was time for Jerry and Micki to get married, Jerry found Rabbi Sol Greenberg, who had the honor of officiating at their wedding. They joined the congregation back then, and have remained members ever since, even after moving from Cincinnati, and after Rabbi Greenberg’s retirement. Jerry was always a willing participant, frequently flying in to help with an adult education program, moderate an interfaith dialogue, or celebrate the end of a successful fundraiser. Jerry was a fixture on Yom Kippur, except the year he had to miss because he was on Dancing with the Stars. One time, for the end of Valley’s Purim Schpiel he recorded a final thought for Purim from the set of his talk show. And, during the pandemic, He agreed to sing a parody song for Valley’s Zoom Purim Schpiel, but only agreed if he could sing an Elvis song.
And it was not just the Valley Temple who benefitted from Jerry’s generosity. Jerry showed up for on-campus discussions of politics, speeches at graduations, golf events where his celebrity could generate additional contributions, and more. He did what he could to promote understanding of the Holocaust, and happily supported so many causes with which he agreed.
When Jerry was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer a few months ago, we were all so shocked as we found out. And yet, when Jerry understood that the illness would take him quickly, he helped us all realize that he absolutely knew of his life’s good fortune and the remarkable journey that he was blessed to live. He got to do things of which others could only dream—surrounded by a loving family and inner circle that cherished him as he cherished them.
Jerry had many gifts. He honored his parents, loved his sister and her family, was a devoted friend, a loving husband, a terrific and permissive father, and a doting Opa. He understood intuitively what Leviticus commanded when it says to not put a stumbling block before the blind, nor insult the deaf. He understood what it meant to not favor the rich or favor the poor because of their status, but to honor everyone for who they were. He believed in his heart that people are obligated to take care of themselves and each other. Jerry Springer made a few mistakes in his life, and that’s what human beings do. But, what he taught us, and all who look at the full picture of the life of Gerald Springer, is that he was able to check off more on the list of being holy than many. And while he joked that his show might make him not go to heaven, that is not even close to the truth if his family and friends have anything to say about it.
The legacy of Jerry Springer is not found only in a long-running sometimes controversial talk-show. It is in the family he created, the friendships he honored, and the values he espoused to those who took the time to get to know more than just a talk-show host. He was afforded many opportunities to do things others did not get to enjoy. But, while being the subject of an opera, singing on the stage, traveling to the next gig, or working to insure a safe and happy future for his family, he also gave back, loved fiercely, and always understood the good fortune with which he was blessed. May the memory of Gerald Springer be a blessing.