Chabad of California took money from a major donor to buy a historic scenic mountain retreat, with the condition that Chabad would bury the man on the site when he died. Chabad complied, but shortly after the man died, Chabad mortgaged the property, including the man's grave, and lost in foreclosure. Here's what happened next.
Above: Rabbi Boruch Shlomo Cunin
Chabad of California got a sizable donation from a man in 2004 to buy a famous mountain retreat once owned by Academy Award winning actor Walter Huston, with the stipulation that when he died, the man would be buried on the property he loved.
Two years later, the man died and was buried where he desired at Running Springs.
But Chabad soon mortgaged the property the man helped them buy and then only months later, stopped making payments on that that loan.
The bank tried to negotiate. Chabad still didn't pay.
Eventually, the bank put the loan into default and wanted to disinter the man's grave and the grave of another donor Chabad buried there – the only two graves on the sprawling property – to make the property salable.
Chabad sued, in part claiming that Jewish law forbids graves to be moved. It also accused the bank of anti-Semitism, despite what was clearly Chabad's own malfeasance.
Chabad then tried to buy the property back from the bank at about half of what it was worth, whined about anti-Semitism when the bank refused, and then tied the bank up in court with other frivolous claims.
Eventually, Bnei Akiva bought the property and is working to rehab it so it can be used as a camp and retreat center starting this summer.
Chabad told the Jewish Journal it won't sue Bnei Akiva. It's only beef, Chabad of California's head, Rabbi Baruch Shlomo Cunin – who, I'm told, was the Lubavitch Yeshiva in Brooklyn's amateur plumber when he was a very poor student there decades ago – reportedly said.
The widow of the second man buried on the property sued Chabad, Cunin and Cunin's son Levi for elder abuse, alleging they basically manipulated and tricked her and her dying husband to give them their Malibu house in exchange for that burial. The case was settled out of court and has a gag order attached to it, but the woman is still living in that house several years later.
Cunin has along alleged history of similar behavior. He was also recorded threatening a local Chabad emissary he was upset with, leaving a message on the man's home answering machine telling him that he would come and break his legs with a baseball bat unless the man compiled with Cunin's orders.
After the Chabad-Lubavitch Rebbe died in 1994, Cunin sometimes made a minyan – which requires 10 adult men (or, under some lenient rulings 7 or more adult men with the rest of the 10 being made up with male children holding Pentatuchs) – by counting all of seven previous Chabad-Lubavitch rebbes (all dead, of course), the Maggid of Mezeritch and the Ba'al Shem Tov (both also long dead) to make 9. He, Baruch Shlomo Cunin, was number 10. And Cunin used that formula to say Kaddish, the public out loud repetition of the Amidah prayer, and other things. He's still a Chabad rabbai and emissary in good standing.
At any rate, read all about the Running Springs foreclosure and the burials at the Jewish Journal.