Letter: Hope for Our Family

Letter to the Editor

Dear neighbor, 

Perhaps we have met, perhaps not. Even if I do not know your name, I feel that we are Mishpacha, the Yiddish word for family.

In 1994, in the immediate days after the Lubavitcher Rebbe’s passing, my new (and only!) wife Sarah and I moved here to create what would become Chabad of Malibu. My wife and I were blessed to raise our nine children in this loving community. The recent fires have reinforced our determination to stay in Malibu as we have been inspired from the care we witnessed…

As I drove through the streets that were overtaken by the fire, my heart was filled with pain and empathy. Yet, we experienced firsthand the positive attitude of those who lost their homes and all their belongings—even their most personal and intimate possessions, their memories of a lifetime. Their lives were turned upside down. 

One of the very first locals whom I met in Malibu was Dr. David Pepper and his new bride, Denise. I recall their warmth. While the Peppers are incomparable, their acquaintance and friendship were the beginning of many encounters over the next 24 years. Since first meeting David what remarkably amounts to nearly a quarter century ago, he retired from a career as a world famous laser physicist at Hughes Research Labs on Malibu Canyon near Pepperdine.

David and Denise have lived up Latigo Canyon in a home David purchased a decade or more before he met Denise. After the two married, Denise became active in our community, working closely with young children. Her legendary devotion was a centerpiece in caring for so many youngsters, who would later achieve so much, in part due to the start she gave them.

All of this has changed this past week, as this couple went from a peaceful and wonderful life to a sudden and abrupt volatility. Like so many others reading these words, the Peppers lost their home in the Woolsey Fire. For them, there was no official warning. A neighbor fortuitously pulled up—as it turns out—barely in time for them to evacuate, leaving behind all they had in material possessions and memorabilia. 

David and Denise are animal lovers. They were very involved with the welfare and fate of animals. Their own dogs are a big part of their life.

Last Sunday, I bumped into Dr. Dean Graulich from the animal hospital. He, too, had just lost his home. I was taken by his positive attitude about his predicament and his optimism for the future. Encountering him gave me a sense of relief and renewed hope for my Mishpacha. We are grateful the Chabad center, which also is our home, survived the fires. I cannot imagine the challenges of those who are returning to find their home now a total loss. Our hearts and prayers are with you, and we are here for you. 

In these trying times, I am reminded of a well-known teaching in Jewish mysticism, that after fire comes wealth. Not just material wealth, but emotional and spiritual, too. The spiritual wealth seems to have already begun with widespread outpouring of love. We are blessed to live in a beautiful and serene environment that, for a time, has been challenged. This great fire has called upon us to match the physical beauty with spiritual beauty. As the dust settles and day-to-day life returns—at first awkwardly and then almost naturally—to its rhythm, I pray that good will come of the hardship and suffering.

I know somehow goodness will emerge—for the Peppers, for Graulich and for so many others who are in despair now. This too, as they say, shall pass.

Rabbi Levi Cunin

Chabad of Malibu