If you think it’s unheard of for doctors to make house calls these days, how about a rabbi who makes office visits?
But schlepping to companies during the Jewish High Holidays is par for the course for Rabbi Aaron Cunin of San Jose. That’s when the 31-year-old Hasidic rabbi ramps up his corporate outreach, blowing ram’s horns and dropping off honey cakes for Jews toiling at work. Rosh Hashana, the Jewish New Year, begins at sundown today.
“We know they may not be in shul,” Cunin said, using the Yiddish term for synagogue. “But they will be at the office.”
The slightly built redheaded rabbi who leads the Chabad House of San Jose culls his holiday list throughout the year, filing names away in his BlackBerry. He only visits Jews. He doesn’t want to convert anyone to Judaism. Rather, it’s to offer not-so-religious Jews more spirituality in their lives. No guilt. No pressure.
“Sometimes, I randomly show up,” Cunin said. “Other times, I get referrals. I look for Jewish sounding names in the phone book. Sometimes, I just see a Jewish name when I’m driving along.”
That’s how he stumbled on David Taxin at the high-powered real estate firm Meacham-Oppenheimer. The rabbi mistakenly thought “Meacham,” (MEE-Chum) was the Hebrew name, “Menacham,” and he decided to pay a visit.
Despite the rabbi’s gaffe, as luck would have it, Taxin happened to be Jewish, though not someone who regularly attends prayer services. Still, he welcomed the rabbi right in.
“He was a young rabbi, and we liked that,” Taxin said. “We’re Type-A, aggressive guys, and we liked his approach.”
The impromptu praying and chatting during that cold call nine years ago led to subsequent visits, and even some business. Taxin said he found the rabbi a rent-free spot in Los Gatos for his center, and then sold him a spot on Los Gatos Boulevard for a future synagogue.
Thursday Cunin stopped by Taxin’s downtown San Jose office, to blow a ram’s horn, called a shofar, and deliver honey cakes, symbolizing a sweet new year.
Well-known to the office by now, the rabbi walked into a conference room to help Taxin’s colleague, Josh Gispan, wrap t’fillin, which are prayers encased in leather, on his forehead and around his arm. “It’s an honor to do this,” the rabbi said. “Sometimes we don’t, especially if they’re working on $10 million deals.”
Taxin piped up, jokingly: “Sometimes the deals happen because you’re here.”
Afterward, the rabbi blew the shofar, his face growing red with the sound of the blast to announce the new year is coming. Taxin and his colleagues listened attentively. The ritual only took a few moments.
“God says you have to work six days and rest the seventh,” Cunin told the group. “So, get back to work.”
Office visits of any kind are indeed out of the ordinary these days for most professionals. But Hasidic members of the worldwide Chabad Lubavitch movement thrive on seeking out unaffiliated Jews, hoping to teach them more about the religion they were born into. Chabad houses are often located near college campuses, offering free study and meals to young students searching for meaning in life. Rosh Hashana is just one of the times during that year that Chabad rabbis step up their efforts. During Passover, many deliver matzo. At Hanukkah, Chabad rabbis hand out free menorahs.
Cunin estimates he visits 50 offices during the Jewish High Holiday season, from doctor’s offices to high-tech folks at Google. “And no, I wasn’t visiting Sergey Brin,” Cunin quipped, referring to Google’s co-founder, who is Jewish.
Lots of connections also are born through word of mouth.
A friend of a friend told Cunin about Dan Orloff, head of an award-winning San Jose public relations firm, Orloff/Williams.
“One day, I get a phone call from the rabbi saying he’s just arrived in town and he wants to have breakfast with me,” said Orloff, who was raised as a Reform Jew but doesn’t belong to any synagogue. “It’s a sin not to accept an invitation from a rabbi.”
Shortly afterward the two, along with Chabad Rabbi Yosef Levin from Palo Alto, were holding court at the swanky Silicon Valley Capital Club. Orloff had coffee. The rabbis had nothing; the club’s dishes aren’t kosher according to Orthodox standards.
“He was networking,” Orloff said. “I found him to be a natural born salesman.”
The relationship has been mutually beneficial. Orloff helped the rabbi find a vacant building for a Purim party, and a venue to light a big menorah in December. When Orloff had troubles in his life, the rabbi counseled him with positive, spiritual thoughts.
And yeah, it was a little weird for Orloff when the rabbi asked him at the office to “lay t’fillin.” “So I opted to talk instead,” Orloff said. “I just really like his sincerity and enthusiasm.”
Cunin said he’s usually greeted with open arms. But if he isn’t, he said he doesn’t push. “People are so polite around here,” he said. “If they don’t want a honey cake or pray, they’re usually not rude about it. They just say, ‘Oh, I’ve got three meetings to attend, can I take your card for later?’ ”
Cunin said sometimes they even call back.