Ten Questions with Rabbi Mendel Cunin

Reno Magazine

Reno, NV — 1) Tell us about Chabad.

Chabad-Lubavitch is a philosophy, movement, and organization with more than 3,300 centers worldwide. Northern Nevada has had a Chabad for 10 years. Chabad’s foundation of wisdom, understanding, and knowledge, coupled with a basic love for all, is what fuels this growing group.

2) Why is it important to bring religion into one’s life?

Young people, especially, are searching for answers. I’ve seen that when spirituality is presented in a user-friendly, welcoming, joyful fashion — how Judaism is meant to be enjoyed — people are very receptive and curious.

3) You plan to build Northern Nevada’s only Jewish day school (first a preschool then K-12) in Reno. What prompted you to create it?

Our leader, the Lubavitcher Rebbe, identified education as Chabad’s worldwide priority. It is through our children that our future is assured. Over the last few decades, top U.S. Jewish day schools were established, preparing the next generation of leaders for challenges ahead. We feel Reno children deserve the same opportunities and resources.

4) Will the school embrace Conservative and Reformed Jews as well?

Chabad doesn’t believe in labels or divisions. The concept of Ahavat Yisrael, love for every Jew, is vital. We all share an ancient and vibrant history as a people. Therefore, we welcome and embrace everyone regardless of their level of observance, knowledge, or affiliation. We provide an opportunity to anyone who wants to explore their Jewish roots, heritage, and traditions.

5) According to one study, the number of Jews in the U.S. shrank from 5.5 million in 1990 to 5.1 million in 2001. Are you alarmed by this?

Over the past decade, there has been a resurgence of Jewish life in the world. The key to this has been the opportunity for young people to experience a quality Jewish education. It is the most important way to inspire Jews to be proud of their heritage. That’s why we are so excited about having a dynamic Jewish school right here in Reno.

6) How is Passover (sundown of April 2 to night fall of April 10) relevant to Jewish families today? How do you celebrate?

We are all enslaved by our personal limitations. In today’s world, the universal message of Passover is to break free of these earthly boundaries and become better, stronger, more confident individuals. Together with my children, we distribute handmade Matzah, just like they had in Egypt, to hundreds of local families.

7) Being observant requires practicing much discipline and tradition in everyday life. Is the practice difficult to apply today?

I have never seen my observance as being restrictive. I believe it sets me free and affords me unique opportunities to enjoy the blessings and opportunities all around me. For example, not driving on Shabbos (sundown Friday to dark on Saturday) provides me with 25 wonderful hours each and every week to spend with my family and friends.

8) Tell us about your wife, Sarah. I understand she plays quite an active role in Chabad. Are your children (triplets and three others) involved as well?

I am very lucky that my wife and children are so involved in Chabad. My wife is educational director and runs the school, but the kids’ spirit is the driving force behind everything we do.

9) What do you like to do for fun in Reno?

We love Reno for the great outdoors. My children have set a goal to visit every lake in the region. If you know the area, we still have a lot of lakes to visit!

10) Are you inspired to try to make Reno a better community?

I encourage everyone to increase their acts of goodness and kindness. It is said that a little bit of light dispels a whole lot of darkness, and even something small can change the world.