The Catholic Italian Ventriloquist Who Loves Hasidic Jews
John Pizzi is one of the hottest rising stars in the entertainment industry and has appeared on America’s Got Talent as well as comedy clubs all over the U.S. where he opens for celebrities like Joy Behar and Weird Al. Besides being a sought-after ventriloquist and magician, John is a good friend to the Orthodox Jewish community; his connection began early in life.
John was born in Brooklyn, right next to Borough Park and raised Christian. His mother was a piano teacher who became very popular with the local religious Jewish children. Pizzi jokes that he was raised “almost Jewish,” except that he went to a Catholic school. He was recruited into the family piano teaching business when his mother couldn’t keep up with the growing demand of students. Pizzi noticed from the start that the observant Jewish families he interacted with were always kind and polite and would make the extra effort to lend a helping hand.
He appreciated that just up the road was a community that was a little different than his all Italian-Irish neighborhood. He was (and is) impressed by how strong the religious Jewish communities are, how they stick together, and the humanity they have for one another. Pizzi saw that many in his neighborhood looked down on the frum community. He noticed the negative, judgmental comments they made, as they didn’t understanding the foreign customs of the religious Jewish community. Pizzi would always speak up for and defend the Orthodox Jews, though his peers never understood why.
In the last several years, Pizzi has gotten even closer to the Orthodox Jewish community as his work has brought him to a slew of sheva brachot and Pesach programs! He proudly explains that sheva brachot literally mean “seven blessings” and are a week of celebrations for a bride and groom after their wedding, though he points out that his secular Jewish chiropractor was unaware of the meaning! Many of his jokes can be filled with innuendos, but he makes sure to deliver ones that fit the venue. While there’s a perception that Hasidic Jews are super serious people who walk around looking down at the pavement. Pizzi gets to watch them laugh and enjoy themselves in a family setting. He sees the men dancing and hugging; so unlike the the stereotype, which Pizzi says he continues to correct whenever he hears comments like, “Oh, those people.”
After a lifetime of championing the community for their kindness and publicizing how they always go the extra mile to help someone in need, a few months ago, John got to experience that chesed up close. While driving to a series of gigs in Monticello, Pizzi’s car got a flat. After wrangling on the spare tire in the rain for a half hour, Pizzi arrived to his first gig forty minutes late. While he felt horrible and apologized profusely, the Hasidic patrons there were very understanding and helped him unload his equipment for the show. After it was over, they helped him transfer his things back to his car so that he could be on his way to the next venue – also a show for Orthodox Jews. Once he finally wrapped up his work for the night – at three o’clock in the morning, Pizzi realized that he needed to drive one hundred and forty miles home on a donut tire – not a safe proposition! He was feeling helpless and hopeless, then out of the blue, two Orthodox men, clad in yarmulkes and beards appeared. Explaining that they are part of Chaveirim – an organization founded to help people who are stuck on the road or locked out of a house. They patched the hole in his tire and re-inflated it, refusing payment as they explained that this is simply their job. Pizzi was incredulous at being the recipient of such kindness.
The next day, en route to a gig in Lakewood, Pizzi saw another Chaveirim truck and pulled over to tell his story to the men in it who simply respond, “Yeah – that’s what we do.” Pizzi says he is still overwhelmed by the kindness, and is still looking for a way to repay them. He posted pictures of the story on Facebook after the incident occurred and the pictures and the post went viral. For a community that is often misunderstood and has long a history of being hated, Pizzi publicizing the depth of kindness that exists is the best “payment” the Orthodox world could ever hope for!