By Jon Voight
met Rabbi Shlomo Cunin in 1986 as a return favor for a friend who helped
me arrange a project I was working on. From then on, the Rabbi and his
family became my family.
The Rabbi invited me to Chabad's drug rehab center in Pico-Robertson.
The first picture that I saw when I walked in, was many weight lifters
in action, they were real characters.
What most struck me, was in the back area; I see this guy sitting at a
table, he had a big beard, with a hat on. He looked like a rabbi. He was
in his shirtsleeves, and he was hand-wrestling these guys. They were all
lined up and, one after the other, he's putting them down. Then someone
told him I was there, so he put on his coat, grabbed me and gave me a
hug. I said, 'this is my kind of a guy.'
I am always so happy and honored to be on the Chabad-L'chaim to Life Telethon.
I had no idea that coming onto the telethon fifteen years ago would make
me famous. Let me tell you of one incident of the many.
I was shopping at the neighborhood supermarket and I happened to notice
an elderly couple peeking as they past me. Then they started whispering
to one another, and I realized what was going on. After a few minutes
the elderly man got some courage to approach me, and he pointed at me
and said, "I know you! I know that face!" I said yes you do,
I am one of the dancers on the Chabad telethon. He said "that's it"
And this is one of the many incidents that occur over and over again.
In the mid-1980s, I had a period of spiritual seeking, I made some mistakes
in my early life, and had to recover from them. I was brought up Catholic
and had no intention of converting to Judaism. Of all the religions I
studied, I have a special fondness for Jewish learning and values. Judaism
is an amazing fountain of information. I have tremendous regard for it.
One of the big things about the Jewish religion is that its fruit is the
deed. I think that is portrayed perfectly by Chabad, and that's why I
am with them.
I never met the Rebbe personally, who was a great and extraordinary leader.
But the Rebbe sent his thanks for all the help to me, through Rabbi Cunin,
he requested that I should speak out on the telethon in support of the
Seven Noahide Commandments, and I did.
The Seven Noahide Commandments appeal to my own sense of what I feel is
a higher purpose, which is to try to get everyone to an understanding
of what they're asked to do, what life's responsibilities are. These very
simple Seven Laws of Noah, are good basics.
We are given the idea by our culture that if you have enough money, enough
cars, enough women, everything's taken care of. It's perfectly all right
to be as selfish as you want. There could not be a more poisonous message.
Four years ago, while filming the NBC mini-series "Noah" in
Melbourne, Australia, I called the then twenty-year-old Tzemach Cunin,
one of Rabbi Cunin's children, who was then studying in a local yeshiva,
and asked him for his help in researching the part. Without the information
I gained from studying with Cunin, it would have been a lot worse off
biblically, then it turned out to be.
One of the remarkable
aspects of Judaism, and I'm not Jewish, is the scholarship passed down
from generation to generation. They immerse themselves in this rich, wonderful
text, of which the story of Noah is a part. Great minds like Maimonides,
the Maharal, the wonderful Chassidic masters and great contemporary minds
like the Rebbe. The story of Noah has been examined and contemplated for
thousands of years. As a result, we've come up with some wonderful insights
from the original Hebrew words that give us a depth to the story. I felt
I was standing on good legs when I did the piece.
It may not be accurate
biblically, in terms of the story, but I think in the end it was pretty
good. There are good little lessons in it. It was a battle to try and
make it a decent portrait.
If we look for truth,
we can be in a constant state of exuberance. That's what I find in Chabad.
They create an energy of positive thinking and good cheer, and through
that, they're able to do tremendous good work.