By Dovid Zaklikowski for COLlive and Hasidic Archives
In the late 1980s, Eduardo Elsztain, chairman of the large Argentinian investment company IRSA, found himself standing on a long line outside Lubavitch World Headquarters – 770 Eastern Parkway. It was Sunday, and the Rebbe was distributing crisp dollar bills (to give to charity) and blessings to those who waited.
“I don’t understand why I am here,” Mr. Elsztain thought to himself. “It costs me 15 dollars to come by taxi from Manhattan and 15 dollars to go back. All this for just one dollar?”
Standing beside him was Rabbi Tzvi Grunblatt, director of Chabad institutions in Buenos Aires. Mr. Elsztain knew he had to meet the Rebbe, if only for his rabbi’s sake.
He had first heard of the Rebbe in 1984 when he traveled to the Soviet Union on a business trip. Rabbi Grunblatt had urged him to use the opportunity to smuggle in Jewish supplies as part of the Rebbe’s clandestine efforts to support Jewish life there.
Mr. Elsztain had agreed. He was given Passover provisions to be delivered to a location far from Moscow, and specific directions on how to get there without being detected: He should call a certain number from a public telephone and say that he brought “regards from Grandpa.” Then he was to walk, not take a taxi, to a certain crossroads where he would be picked up.
Everything went smoothly, and he found himself in the home of a Jewish family with young children. He was moved to think how the Rebbe, far away in New York, was concerned with supplying the needs of this family—this same reflection inspired the family themselves.
Back in New York, Mr. Elsztain’s first meeting with the Rebbe was brief. The Rebbe gave him a dollar, and then another one to give to another person to give to charity.
“When I left, I thought to myself, what happened in these twenty seconds?” Mr. Elsztain said. “I did not look like one of the Rebbe’s followers. He did not know me. Yet he gave me a mission to assist someone else whom he does not know [by giving the dollar to charity], and to get another individual that he does not know to do a good deed.”
In 1990, Mr. Elsztain was in Brooklyn studying Judaism in the mornings and traveling into Manhattan in the afternoons to find investors for his company. Billionaire George Soros recognized his genius, and gave him $10 million to invest in the Argentinian stock market.
Then, in March 1991, Mr. Elsztain found himself in front of the Rebbe for another short meeting. Soros and others had just given him another $15 million to invest, and he was asking the Rebbe if he should invest it in the stock market.
“I am not so happy about investing money in the stock market,” the Rebbe told him. “The stock market does not leave a person with peace of mind… It disturbs you from sleeping properly.”
The Rebbe advised him to transfer the money slowly out of stocks into other investments. “It is not safe. It is better if you invest in something that is safe,” the Rebbe said. “Investing in another venture will be good for you.”
From then on, IRSA began to focus all of its investments on real estate and agriculture.