On his first visit to New York City after the Sept. 11 attacks a year ago, Rabbi Boruch Shlomo Cunin, from Los Angeles, was talking with some fellow Lubavitchers about a Jewish response to terrorism.
"What would the rebbe do?" one of the chasidim asked, referring to the late Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson, leader of the Chabad movement.
"The rebbe would give New York City a gift," was the answer.
The gift that Rabbi Cunin, director of Chabad of California, and his friends agreed upon is a Torah scroll. The sefer Torah, whose writing began in Lubavitch headquarters in Crown Heights and continued during the past year in Jerusalem, will be completed during Chabad’s 22nd annual "L’Chaim-To Life!" national telethon on Sunday; produced in Los Angeles, it will be carried locally, from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m., on WLNY-55.
"Nine-eleven was an attack by the forces of darkness," Rabbi Cunin says. "The Torah is light."
The scroll, in honor of the 9-11 victims, will be presented to the Chabad of Wall Street ("Chabad of Ground Zero, in effect") after being escorted here by plane by Rabbi Cunin. It will be taken to Rabbi Schneerson’s grave in Queens, Lubavitch headquarters in Brooklyn, and Ground Zero in Lower Manhattan; then it will make the rounds of various sites around New York on Simchat Torah next month.
"It’s going to be a happy occasion," Rabbi Cunin says in a telephone interview. The rabbi, who has become a minor celebrity in Southern California after his annual appearances on the telethon, will help Rabbi Shlomo Henig, the Torah scribe, complete the scroll’s final letter on Sunday.
"The telethon is universal in outlook," he says, explaining why he chose 9-11 (an attack on American society) as the theme of this year’s broadcast.
The sefer Torah given to a New York congregation is intended to serve as thanks for the city ("A city of chesed, a city of goodness") that welcomed the previous Lubavitcher rebbe and his followers who were fleeing Nazi Europe some 60 years ago, Rabbi Cunin says.
The telethon, which was started after a fire destroyed the Chabad of California headquarters, has raised "tens of millions of dollars" for Chabad humanitarian projects over the years.
This year’s host is Dennis Prager, author and radio talk show host. Actor Fyvush Finkel will receive the first "L’Chaim To Life!" Humanitarian Award.