Television icon and comedian Jay Leno talked about his avid support for Israel and the Jewish people during the StandWithUs “Festival of Lights” virtual gala on Sunday night.

“My dad said you always want to be proud of who you are, and that’s why I like Jews. They’re proud of who they are,” the former host of “The Tonight Show with Jay Leno” told Jewish comedian Elon Gold in a pre-recorded message that aired during the live Hanukkah event.

“Here they are, this little country surrounded by people who literally hate them, and the fact that [these] people are proud of who they are and they stick together—that’s what I like. I like seeing people who are proud of who they are because if you don’t have pride in yourself, you’re not gonna get anywhere,” he added. “So, for me, I like that sort of Jewish pride.”

Speaking to Gold from his garage, where he touts an extensive car collection, Leno shared stories about his relationship with the Jewish community. He reminisced about being a “Shabbos goy” for his neighbors when he was a kid growing up in New York and one of his first comedic gigs performing for Orthodox Jews at a bungalow colony in the Catskill Mountains.

He also told a joke that he once shared with a rabbi who asked Leno for something humorous to use in his sermon for Rosh Hashanah and told of memories with Orthodox Jewish scriptwriter Marvin Silverman, who wrote for his talk show and would make up Jewish holidays so he could take off from work.

When asked by Gold why he supports Israel, Leno replied: “I don’t like to see people get picked on. I remember there was a Chassidic kid in our school, and he would always get picked on, and I went over and made friends with him. And he was the same as everybody else. When you’re a kid, you have to learn that people are the same.”

The Italian-Scottish comedian also noted that Italians and Jews are not so different in terms of their emphasis on family and food, and said he feels at home in the Jewish state.

“When I was in Israel, I felt like I was at my cousin Toby’s wedding,” he joked. “They’re very friendly. You feel like you’re at home. … We all want the same thing for our children and for our family. That’s why I support Israel.”

Leno concluded by telling viewers that his hopes for the near future are: “Next year in Jerusalem.”

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