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Wednesday
Jul262017

TAKING THE REBBE’S MESSAGE TO HEART

PART I

The life of a shliach isn’t easy, especially the life of a head shliach who bears the responsibility of shlichus not only of one city but of an entire state. And not only a state, but a large state like California with 40,000,000 people and half a million square kilometers of land (for the sake of comparison, Israel is about 20,000 square kilometers). But this is the privilege and responsibility of one of the veteran shluchim, Rabbi Shlomo Cunin. He was sent to California in 1965.

Pretty much every Lubavitcher is familiar with the colorful personality of R’ Cunin, a Chassid whose entire being expresses mesirus nefesh and utter submission to the meshaleiach, the Rebbe.

When R’ Cunin went to California in 5725, he found a spiritual desert. With great mesirus nefesh, he began drawing Jews close to Torah and Chassidus. He instilled a love for mitzvos and brought them to the t’fillos and shiurim that he started.

With the tremendous energy he is gifted with, R’ Cunin worked hard and eventually opened the first Chabad House in the world, long before the Chabad Houses we are familiar with today covered the globe.

Needless to say, as his projects increased and his work expanded, his budget grew too. Over the years, the financial burden weighed more and more heavily upon him. R’ Cunin put tremendous effort into fundraising so he could pay for his programs.

Fundraising isn’t easy, by any means, and it entails many disappointments along with successes. R’ Cunin did not make a move without reporting to the Rebbe, who encouraged him with numerous blessings.

PART II

One day, someone called his office who introduced himself as so-and-so, who was known to be very rich, a millionaire. The man said he thought Chabad institutions were worthy of his support and he wanted to donate four million dollars for Chabad’s work. He even sent paperwork that attested to this. He arranged to meet with R’ Cunin the next day.

R’ Cunin was thrilled by this unexpected offer of help and was very disappointed when he discovered that the person did not really intend on giving him a donation, and that it was for his own ulterior motives that he promised what he promised, an assurance that turned out to be worthless and a great disappointment.

A short while later, R’ Cunin was in New York and he told the Rebbe’s secretary, R’ Chadakov, what happened. R’ Chadakov conveyed this to the Rebbe.

The next day, Erev Shabbos, the Rebbe entered his office shortly before the onset of Shabbos. R’ Cunin stood on the side and watched the Rebbe. Suddenly, the Rebbe stopped and motioned to R’ Cunin to approach. He took a nickel out of his pocket and gave it to R’ Cunin and said in a compassionate way, “This is five million for California.”

Nobody present understood this, but those in the know said it was a compensatory blessing after what had happened.

PART III

We could fill a large tome devoted to the trials and tribulations of R’ Cunin in his ongoing efforts to forge connections with wealthy men in California, in order to get them involved in Chabad’s work.

It was shortly before 19 Kislev 5742 when R’ Cunin met with Mr. Jerome Charles Weintraub (1937-2015), known as Jerry. Mr. Weintraub was an American movie producer, a successful talent agent, and an actor in his own right. He made his money in the Hollywood film industry and was one of the richest Jews in California. He started out producing concerts for the big-name stars in California and from there he moved into the movie industry. He produced movies that were worldwide successes and he received many awards in the field.

He later became an honored donor to various charity organizations like Los Angeles County Museum of Art, the Museum of Contemporary Art, the Music Center, the UCLA School of Dentistry and the Children’s Museum of Los Angeles. Thanks to his influence and position, he was a friend of U.S. Presidents Reagan and Bush.

Back then, in the early 80’s, the first seeds of a connection between R’ Cunin and him were planted, a relationship in which the shliach “sowed ruchnius and reaped gashmius.”

Sometime later, R’ Cunin went to New York for 19 Kislev 5742 to be with the Rebbe on this Rosh HaShana L’Chassidus. For a shliach returning from his place of shlichus to be with the meshaleiach, sitting among thousands at the festive farbrengen, there is no greater joy.

This was before cell phones. While R’ Cunin was in New York, his office conveyed an urgent message to him that Jerry Weintraub wanted to speak to him. R’ Cunin understood how important it was to develop and deepen the connection that had just started to show some signs of promise, so he rushed to call Mr. Weintraub’s office. The secretary told him that Mr. Weintraub was in an important meeting and did not want to be disturbed.

R’ Cunin told her to tell her boss that Shlomo Cunin was waiting on the line. She did as he asked and to her surprise, Mr. Weintraub excused himself from his meeting, went to his private office, and took the call.

“R’ Cunin, I know you are currently by the Grand Rabbi of Lubavitch,” said Jerry. “Please tell the Rebbe that I heard the message he sent yesterday, and I will try to the best of my ability to do as he asked.”

It is hard to baffle R’ Cunin, but this time, he was speechless. He had no idea what this was about and asked for more information.

Mr. Weintraub told him that the night before, he was sitting at home and watching television and was switching channels when he suddenly saw the Rebbe sitting with his Chassidim. It was a live broadcast of the 19 Kislev farbrengen. The Rebbe was saying that someone who had the ability to do something about promoting observance of the Seven Noachide Laws had the obligation to use his unique ability and convince his acquaintances to keep these important mitzvos, since G-d did not create anything for nothing.

“I felt that the Lubavitcher Rebbe was speaking to me. I couldn’t switch channels. I was hypnotized by him and continued listening to his amazing messages until the end of the fascinating encounter that he had with his followers.”

R’ Cunin hung up the phone with a great feeling of satisfaction. At that very time, the Rebbe was in the Ohel, praying on behalf of the Jewish people and those needing a yeshua. R’ Cunin rushed to 770 in great joy. He hoped that this conversation would be a turning point in the relationship between Mr. Weintraub and Chabad mosdos in California. He decided to stand in the doorway of the small zal and wait for the Rebbe to come in for Mincha, so he could convey the personal message that Mr. Weintraub sent.

Time passed and the Rebbe’s car was seen approaching. A minute or two later, the car stopped near 770 and the Rebbe quickly emerged, went to his office, and came out two minutes later for Mincha.

This was just the moment R’ Cunin was waiting for. He was about to address the Rebbe when a millisecond before he opened his mouth, the Rebbe turned to him and asked, “How is Mr. Weintraub?” and without waiting for a reply, he entered the zal.

At the end of Mincha, the Rebbe left the shul for his office. R’ Cunin pushed his way to follow the Rebbe and entered Gan Eden HaTachton (the hallway outside the Rebbe’s room) where he told the Rebbe about the phone conversation he had. The Rebbe took eighteen dollars out of his pocket and gave them to R’ Cunin for him to give to Mr. Weintraub. The Rebbe added some details and advice about how the fabulously wealthy Californian could put the matter into practice. The Rebbe told R’ Cunin that as soon as he returned to California, he should convey this to Mr. Weintraub.

So, immediately upon disembarking from the plane in LA, he instructed his driver to bring him straight to the office complex of Mr. Weintraub, in order to carry out his shlichus. It turned out that he wasn’t there then, and when R’ Cunin inquired as to his whereabouts, the secretary shrugged to indicate that she had no idea. “It’s already quite a few hours that he hasn’t called into the office,” she said. R’ Cunin told his driver to take him to the man’s luxurious estate, but all he encountered was locked gates. Nobody from the family was there to open for him.

R’ Cunin knew that he could not go home until he had fulfilled the Rebbe’s shlichus, so he contacted a mutual friend of theirs, who told him that he had been with Mr. Weintraub a few hours before when he had experienced a medical emergency that required hospitalization.

R’ Shlomo instructed the driver to proceed posthaste to the hospital for a visit. He approached the information desk to inquire about where Jerry was being kept, but to his great surprise, they that that name did not appear on the list of patients in the hospital. Being no fool, he realized something was up, and he began making inquiries until he discovered that the legendary tycoon was being housed in a side room off of the emergency room. Because he did not want the fact of his hospitalization becoming known to the public under any circumstances, his name was left off the list of patients.

At that time, Mr. Jerome Charles Weintraub lay in his bed, closed off by himself and worrying about his health and his future. No words can describe his shock when he suddenly saw R’ Cunin standing there with his trademark exuberance. “How did you manage to find me here?” he asked in astonishment. His amazement grew ever more when he heard from R’ Cunin the entire chain of events, and how the Rebbe knew with his prophetic vision about the message he wanted to convey to the Rebbe before he even opened his mouth. Not only that, but the Rebbe already anticipated his current crisis and sent him “Chai” dollars. He saw this as a clear sign that despite his concerns, he would recover soon.

In the wake of this amazing story, Mr. Weintraub became of the major supporters of the work of Chabad in California.

PART IV

R’ Shlomo Cunin shared this story at the convention of California shluchim, when they gathered for their yearly convocation in S. Diego in 1983.

Another point that he added to the story was the fact that he had tried for a very long time before that to forge a connection with Mr. Weintraub, but all his efforts had been in vain. So, he turned to the Rebbe and asked for advice. The Rebbe responded with an amazing answer: “A picture of you is not something that he lacks for in his picture album, and plaques on his wall he does not lack either. What does a Jew want? Olam HaBa (The World to Come)! Nu, so give him Olam Haba…”

Mr. Weintraub passed away two years ago, and on his Wikipedia page there is a line that says: He was a devotee of the Lubavitcher Rebbe and believed in his mystical powers.

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