Telethons always aim to break records, but this year the producers of the “Chabad ‘To Life!’ Telethon” hope to make the Guinness Book of World Records, when Rabbi Yossi Cunin undertakes what he calls “the longest recorded Chasidic dance ever” on the show Sept. 13 on KTLA. Last Friday, the 36-year-old rabbi demonstrated just how aerobic the kazatzka can be as he and seven friends danced their way onto a live broadcast of the KTLA news, pulling the startled weatherman aside as they leapt, twirled, somersaulted and cartwheeled to klezmer music, wearing their traditional long kapote coats.
Afterward, Cunin told newsman Sam Rubin that he’ll dance just as vigorously for six straight hours as the telethon airs from 5 to 11 p.m. Sunday. For the last three months, he’s been stepping up his endurance by working out with celebrity trainer Dave “Scooter” Honig, who is renowned for helping rapper LL Cool J sculpt his famously chiseled physique.
Cunin, spiritual leader of Chabad of The Hills in Beverly Hills, wasn’t always in such good shape. Just four years ago, the 5-foot-10 rabbi weighed 250 pounds, almost 100 pounds more than he does today. “I started to put on weight after I got married,” he explained. “With all the kids in the house, I was not paying a lot of attention to my health. You’ve really got to take extra care because of all the holiday meals and celebrations in Jewish culture.” Around 2004, he said, he realized he owed it to his family to get into shape. “It’s important to one’s spiritual life to be in good physiological health,” he added.
Cunin began his exercise routine slowly: “I’d run one block and walk two,” he said. He worked up to running 11 miles at a time, as well as sprinting, swimming and mountain biking, and watched his carbs — even baking his family’s Shabbat challah with his own whole-grain recipe. His wife also created a low-carb matzah ball for the family.
But Cunin knew that attempting six hours of extreme dancing would require him to take his fitness to a new level. Enter Honig, the Jewish co-author of The New York Times bestseller, “LL Cool J’s Platinum Workout,” whom he had met through Chabad contacts. “First he had me run up the stairs at Dodger Stadium with weights on my back,” Cunin recalled. “On the treadmill we’d get my heart rate up around 184; if it drops 40 points in 30 seconds, you’re in good athletic shape.”
Even if Cunin does succeed on Sunday, he acknowledges his record could be short-lived and easily broken by someone still in his 20s. “I’m hoping I can hold onto it for a year or two,” he said. But most of all, he added, he is hoping to break some barriers about the perception of Jews — and to demonstrate “joy in the extreme” during challenging economic times.