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Mr. Marvin Goldsmith

21 March 2024

I grew up in Long Beach, California, and – after serving two years in the army – I moved to Los Angeles. There, I attended the University of Southern California, graduating from its Law School in 1959.

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Not long after that, my wife and I met a rabbi who had come to Los Angeles to develop Chabad there. His name was Rabbi Shlomo Cunin, and we became fairly close. As a lawyer, I helped him out with a few parking tickets, and we became closer. Chabad in California has grown tremendously over the years, but I’ve been connected with Rabbi Cunin ever since the time he was working out of that second-floor office on Fairfax Avenue.

In 1969, I helped Rabbi Cunin acquire the building of the very first Chabad House. It was the old Pi Lambda Phi fraternity house at UCLA, and I had been a member of the fraternity when I was in college, so I wound up helping him with some of the legal aspects of the purchase.

Later, I accompanied Rabbi Cunin to present the key of the Chabad House to the Rebbe. We also had the lock with us. It was a Schlage lock, as I recall, and the plan was to then bring the lock back to California and install it in the door. But the Rebbe was against the idea. When we brought the key to the Rebbe, he told us: “Don’t put the lock on the door – it should always remain open!”

I’d had a private audience with the Rebbe before then, and a couple more after it as well. Whenever I came, there would be a great number of people who wanted to see the Rebbe, so you had to be patient when you waited for an audience. At my first meeting, it was around 9:30 in the evening when I began writing the note which I would hand to the Rebbe – but it was approximately 4:00 AM by the time it was my turn to enter his office.

The Rebbe’s office was very chilly. The air-conditioner was running full blast, perhaps because it was late at night and people needed help to stay awake, or just because he liked a cold room.

After the Rebbe very politely invited me to sit down, the conversation was very fluid. I knew that Yiddish was his first language, so I was surprised to hear that his English was impeccable.

People assume that discussions with the Rebbe would be very stilted and formal, but that wasn’t the case. We would have a very pleasant and comfortable conversation, in which the Rebbe spoke to me as though he were a good friend.

When it came to giving advice, the Rebbe did not typically tell you what to do dogmatically. He had a particular interest in people, and was a problem solver, and so he wanted to understand what people’s problems were in order to help solve them. But of course, nobody can fix someone else’s problems for them. Instead the Rebbe acted as a kind of counselor. He gave you some direction or insight into a given issue, and guided you toward a conclusion.

Preparing for the audience with the Rebbe was part of this process. Oftentimes, when you write and rewrite that note to the Rebbe, focusing on the issue you have on your mind, your own writing process points to a particular conclusion. You indicate the response you need to hear, which the Rebbe then picks up on, and so your own reasoning becomes the starting point for the discussion.

Something like this happened a few years later, in a subsequent audience, when some advice I received from the Rebbe ended up, at least in part, shaping the rest of my career. I was considering applying for a judicial appointment here in California, and decided to ask him about it. I prepared a letter in which I performed a kind of self-analysis, writing down where I was, and what I wanted to do.

In our meeting, we discussed the idea of becoming a judge for a little while and then, very profoundly, he told me: “You really don’t want to be in a position of judging others.” Of course, unless there’s a jury involved, that’s typically what judges have to do.

Well, maybe he’s right, I thought to myself. Maybe I shouldn’t be seeking a judgeship. And so I didn’t. Instead, I ended up spending  thirty-six years in the California Attorney General’s office where I was a trial lawyer and then the head of the Tort Section of the office. And after retirement I was in private practice for a number of years. All in all, I am very happy with the direction my career has taken – thanks to the Rebbe’s advice.

In 1971, my wife Adele went to see the Rebbe for the first time. She was on her way to Israel with our four children, who were then aged between two and fourteen. The main reason for the trip was our eldest daughter Tova; we wanted her to spend a year studying in Israel. She would be staying with my wife’s sister, while attending the Evelina de Rothschild school in Jerusalem.

When he heard of Adele’s trip, Rabbi Cunin said, “You must make a stop in New York and have an audience with the Rebbe.”

She brought the children with her, and the Rebbe was very warm, hospitable, and congenial, asking for each of the children’s names, and then giving them all a blessing for good health and happiness. He was also genuinely interested in hearing about why they were going to Israel.

But when Adele told him about our plans for Tova, he wasn’t enthusiastic. He asked her a few pointed questions: Why are you sending her there? What is the purpose of it? How did you choose the school?

It was as though he wanted her to verbalize what we were trying to accomplish by having Tova go to Israel for the year. But Adele didn’t have a concrete answer that would satisfy him. We just thought that it would be a good experience for her, and we didn’t have anything more specific than that in mind.

The Rebbe never told her outright not to send Tova to Israel for the year, but the feeling we got was that he didn’t think it was a very good idea. And, after the fact, it seems that it wasn’t such a great experience. My sister-in-law and brother-in-law took good care of her, but she was still in a foreign environment without her immediate family. She was quite young, didn’t know the language, and we didn’t properly take into consideration everything she would have to deal with.

Although the Rebbe had never met Adele or the children before, he was still so concerned for them. He cared for their welfare, and conveyed how important it was for our daughter to be happy.

Interestingly, a year later, I had an audience with the Rebbe myself, and he asked me how my daughter was doing in school. I don’t know how he remembered to ask about her, but he did.

As cold as it was in his room, and as late at night as they were, I always did enjoy those meetings with the Rebbe.

Marvin Goldsmith was the Senior Assistant Attorney General of California. Following his retirement, he has served as a reserve detective at the West Hollywood Sheriff’s Department since 2006. He and his wife Adele were both interviewed in their home in September, 2011, and her recollections contributed to this account.