Twenty-five years ago or so, on a Friday afternoon when no one was supposed to get in to see him, there came a knock on Rabbi Morris Gordon's door and, before he could say "Don't come in," a man in his 20s stepped inside. Rabbi Gordon had expressly told the secretaries in his Minneapolis congregation that he was not to be disturbed.
"I asked him how he got past three secretaries," Rabbi Gordon was saving last night. "And he said, 'I consider secretaries an obstacle that must be avoided on the way to achievement.' I'll never forget that."
The young man's name was Meshulam Riklis. Last night, Rabbi Gordon -- now of the Congregation Har Shalom in Potomac -- and thousands across the country and across the seas benefitted from Meshulam Riklis' avoidance of obstacles. Last night, in more than a thousand theaters, the movie "The Chosen," based on Chaim Potok's novel about the assimilation of a Hasidic Jew into American society, premiered.
The premieres coincided with the 33rd anniversary of the State of Israel, and were to benefit educational institutions there because their funds have been cut back for defense spending. More than 1,500 people paid $100 a ticket to attend the premiere in Lisner Auditorium at George Washington University. There were $500-a-seat premieres in New York and Chicago at the same time.
"This was an immense undertaking," said Gordon. Meshulam Riklis' undertaking. Riklis is now the chairman of the board of Rapid American Corporation in New York.
"When he came to me," Gordon said, "he said he needed money to live. He wanted a job teaching a class in Hebrew. This was a month after the classes began. I had all the teachers I needed. He said surely there was one teacher who was not doing so well. And there was. He said, 'What do you have to lose?' So I gave him a job making $52.50 a week."
When Riklis arrived for the 4 o'clock class every day, he would step out of the back of a long, black limousine with two large books under each arm. Gordon immediately went and asked about his needing this job to put food on his table.
"The limousine belonged to the president of Honeywell, whom he had met," Gordon said. "And the books were mathematics books. He was working in a stockbroker's office, just for the experience, making no money, and he was studying mathematics and corporate existence. He said, 'You see, I'm something of a mathematical genius.'"
His genius made him a millionaire before he left Minneapolis, and has given him a corporate office that occupies the entire penthouse floor of a Manhattan office building.
"He's the one who decided to do this, at a thousand theaters at the same time," Gordon said.