Skip To Content
JEWISH. INDEPENDENT. NONPROFIT.
Culture

Once a Jewish hero of the counterculture, Aron Kay looks back on his pie-throwing days

At the end of a 1995 oral history recorded for the USC Shoah Foundation, Holocaust survivor Mary Kay was asked about her children and grandchildren. When she got to her eldest son, she indicated that he lived in New York but declared, “I can’t tell you what he does.”

Kay was not about to kvell that her son Aron had gained considerable fame in the 1970s and 80s for pie-ing members of the political establishment. And perhaps she really didn’t know what he did in New York, which was peddle countercultural newspapers and, perhaps, marijuana.

Aron Kay, now 72, has children and grandchildren of his own. And like increasing numbers of the Woodstock generation, he has not aged well. The Pieman has been in a Brooklyn assisted living facility since late 2017 and when he signs himself out to, say, attend the New York Cannabis Parade, he rolls his wheelchair into a minivan to get there.

He’s still a proud Yippie, though. And a proud Jew. Kay has said the Marx Brothers and the Three Stooges — both Jewish acts— had a big influence on him but there’s no denying that being the child of Holocaust survivors has left its mark, as well.

“I’m no religious type but look where I came out of,” Kay told me in one of a series of telephone interviews. His parents, he says, “had PTSD and it carries through. I’m the oldest, so I got the brunt of it.

A series of four Bar Mitzvah photos of Aron Kay

Bar Mitzvah Boy: Aron Kay became a man before he became the pie-man. Courtesy of Aron Kay

Kay’s mother and father, the former Mania Pawlowicz and Morris Ksiazkowski, were Polish Jews who emigrated to Canada in 1948 with the help of the International Ladies Garment Workers Union. Mania came to be known as Mary. Morris shortened his surname to Kay. Kay’s mother was confined to Jewish ghettoes in Wieluń and Lodz before being transferred to the first of three concentration camps. She was liberated from the Salzwedel camp by the 84th Infantry Division of the U.S. Army in April 1945. Kay said his father Morris served in the Polish Army and spent eight months as a POW but after being released, “hung out in the woods.”

His parents talked a lot about the Shoah, Kay said. Referring to his late mother, he said, “If she was still alive, she’d still be talking about it.”

Although throwing pies at Republicans is obviously not the deadly pursuit that waging guerrilla war against the Nazis in the forests of Poland was, Aron Kay has said that his adult life has been dedicated to ridding the world of “Nazi scum.” And he’s identified himself online as a “Jewish road warrior,” a line he borrowed from another Jewish Yippie, the late Abbie Hoffman.

This eagerness to confront neo-Nazis and antisemites has been a long-term endeavor for Kay. When he worked on movement newspapers like The Yipster Times and Overthrow, he helped publish their home phone numbers and addresses. Kay said that when he made harassing phone calls to the neo-Nazi Tom Metzger, his children joined in. And he claims that he threw a punch at National Socialist Party of America leader Harold Covington in 1981 outside a Manhattan TV studio where a protest against the broadcast of NBC’s docu-drama “Holocaust” was taking place.

According to the Southern Poverty Law Center, eight members of the Jewish Defense League armed with steel pipes participated in the attack on Covington. More recently, Kay was on hand for a 2010 confrontation with members of the avowedly antisemitic Westboro Baptist Church of Kansas outside a yeshiva in the Midwood section of Brooklyn.

The “Jewish road warrior” never got a hero’s welcome from his parents, though. They were quite upset with his pie-throwing endeavors.

“They hated it,” Kay told me.

He resolved not to pie anyone when he was visiting his family in California. In 1980 at the age of 30, Kay went home to L.A. with his girlfriend. His mother took them out to breakfast at a coffee shop called The House of Pies.

Kay has lived in New York since the early 1970s thanks in part to A.J. Weberman, who gained his own 15 minutes of fame in 1970 as the “garbologist“ who went through Bob Dylan’s Greenwich Village trash. Weberman and Kay met in Miami during the protests surrounding the 1972 Republican National Convention.

“There he was, a big hairy dude with a Jewish star hanging around his neck,” Weberman recalled of their first encounter in Miami’s Flamingo Park.

It’s difficult to gauge the veracity of Weberman’s account of Kay’s pie-throwing career. Weberman is, after all, a man who boasts on his Twitter page that he “solved the Kennedy assassination puzzle and the COVID-19 mystery.” Nevertheless, Kay confirms that Weberman paid him $100 for each of the pie attacks, particularly the hits on figures Weberman alleges were involved in the JFK assassination.

“I was the one who put a lot of the contracts out,” Weberman told me, “the pie contracts.”

Kay says his most politically significant pie-ing was the one in April 1977 that targeted conservative activist Phyllis Schlafly. She was hit with an apple pie and an explanation, “That’s for the Equal Rights Amendment, you bitch.” The incident was depicted in the 2020 FX miniseries “Mrs. America,” which dramatized Schlafly’s role in scuttling the ERA. A GIF of the TV scene has circulated on the web.

via GIPHY

The pies kept flying for nearly 20 years. It all began in 1973 with the hit on a former movement comrade who’d gone spiritual: Chicago Seven defendant Renny Davies had morphed from anti-war activist to follower of the “16-year-old spiritual master “Guru Maharaji.” Kay went on to pie New York Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan, New York Mayor Abraham Beam, the conservative columnist William F. Buckley, former CIA director William Colby, nuclear physicist Edward Teller, Jerry Brown, Steve Rubell, Andy Warhol and a nun. That hit was commissioned by two Catholic schoolgirls. Kay says he arranged for the sale of exclusive photos of the attacks on Schlafly and Moynihan to the Associated Press.

Not all of Kay’s pie attacks were successful. In 1979 he tried to pie President Jimmy Carter’s brother Billy as he went in to testify before a federal grand jury in Manhattan. But U.S. Marshals grabbed Kay and held him in a cell for an hour before releasing him.

Kay flung his final pie in 1992 at the Democratic National Convention, where his target was the anti-abortion activist Randall Terry. He apparently decided afterward that as the father of a young girl, it was time to start behaving.

There may be another factor responsible for Kay’s political activism other than being the son of Holocaust survivors and getting caught up in the ferment of the 60s. Before the family moved to L.A. in 1964, the Kays lived in the North Park section of Buffalo, New York where Aron was bullied, according to David Lazerson, a childhood friend who attended summer camps with him run by the JCC of Greater Buffalo. Nearly 60 years later, Kay is still in touch with Lazerson who became a baal tshuvah and eventually a Lubavitcher rabbi.

“Aron had a sort of a fierceness about defending the Jewish people,” Lazerson told me. “It was something I hardly saw in any of my other friends at all.”

Lazerson spent much of the 1980s and 90s in Crown Heights, Brooklyn, where he once introduced the Pieman to Menachem Schneerson. But Kay apparently resisted the temptation to bless the Lubavitcher rebbe with a baked desert. Lazerson said Kay would ask to put on tefilim when they met in Crown Heights. And the two would sit and recite the shema together.

“I see nothing wrong with that,” Kay told me when I mentioned it to him.

At the conclusion of the Shoah Foundation oral history, Aron Kay’s mother was asked what message she hoped would be passed down to her grandchildren. “Don’t forget that you’re Jewish,” she said. “And respect your parents.”

And now Aron Kay is a zeyde.

On the wall of his room at the assisted living facility, photos of his seven year-old grandson Aaron Thomas are posted alongside images of peace signs and pot leaves. He has a blanket that bears a reproduction of the “Sgt. Pepper” album cover.

Kay spends time talking on his cellphone, watching CNN and posting on Facebook.

He hopes to eventually live on his own again but his 39-year-old daughter Rachel is dubious about whether Kay could survive without 24-hour care. She has urged him to stick to a vegan diet to lose weight. Kay concedes that his weight and leg problems have resulted in losing the ability to walk.

Rachel Kay considers her father a hero who changed history and hopes to write his biography some day.

“It’s a good one, right?” she told me. “There’s so much to write and I don’t know where to start.”

Manhattan-based radio journalist Jon Kalish has reported and recorded for NPR since 1980.

I hope you appreciated this article. Before you go, I’d like to ask you to please support the Forward’s award-winning, nonprofit journalism during this critical time.

Now more than ever, American Jews need independent news they can trust, with reporting driven by truth, not ideology. We serve you, not any ideological agenda.

At a time when other newsrooms are closing or cutting back, the Forward has removed its paywall and invested additional resources to report on the ground from Israel and around the U.S. on the impact of the war, rising antisemitism and the protests on college campuses.

Readers like you make it all possible. Support our work by becoming a Forward Member and connect with our journalism and your community.

Make a gift of any size and become a Forward member today. You’ll support our mission to tell the American Jewish story fully and fairly. 

— Rachel Fishman Feddersen, Publisher and CEO

Join our mission to tell the Jewish story fully and fairly.

Republish This Story

Please read before republishing

We’re happy to make this story available to republish for free, unless it originated with JTA, Haaretz or another publication (as indicated on the article) and as long as you follow our guidelines. You must credit the Forward, retain our pixel and preserve our canonical link in Google search.  See our full guidelines for more information, and this guide for detail about canonical URLs.

To republish, copy the HTML by clicking on the yellow button to the right; it includes our tracking pixel, all paragraph styles and hyperlinks, the author byline and credit to the Forward. It does not include images; to avoid copyright violations, you must add them manually, following our guidelines. Please email us at [email protected], subject line “republish,” with any questions or to let us know what stories you’re picking up.

We don't support Internet Explorer

Please use Chrome, Safari, Firefox, or Edge to view this site.