Guma Aguiar Disappearance: Rabbi Recalls His Mad Generosity
Courtesy of Jerry Levine
This week's cover story is about Guma Aguiar, a driven, self-critical millionaire who disappeared at sea one night in June. Just before he struck it rich in the Texas oilfields, he converted to Judaism and met Moishe Meir Lipszyc, rabbi at Chabad Lubavitch of Fort Lauderdale. After getting rich, Aguiar stayed faithful. Below, the rabbi recalls some of the zealous generosity that became Aguiar's calling card.
Inside the lobby of the Chabad Lubavitch temple in Fort Lauderdale, a building that bears Guma Aguiar's name above the door, there's a large metal collection box. People who come to Sabbath services will drop in donations; that's nothing out of the ordinary. But Guma Aguiar once passed by and quietly dropped in a check for $10,000.
Aguiar had been talking to Rabbi Lipszyc about attending the upcoming services for Shavuot, for a reading of the Ten Commandments. "My cell phone rang, and it was a person that I owed $10,000 to," Lipszyc recalls. "I said, 'Give me a few more weeks.'" Aguiar didn't mention it and showed up to the services. He stayed only for around 15 minutes.
Lipszyc with Aguiar
A week later, Lipszyc opened the box and found the check. It was from the Lillian Jean Kaplan Foundation, which Aguiar ran with his business partner and uncle, Thomas Kaplan. Later, Kaplan would accuse Aguiar of mismanaging the funds in other ventures. But now, Aguiar didn't even want to speak with the grateful rabbi about his donation.
Chabad Lubavitch follows "the Rebbe," a spiritual leader who died in 1994. "People go every year on the day of his passing away" to his grave in New York, Lipszyc says. One year, "Guma chartered a plane for 172 people, as well as charter buses. There was kosher food on the plane. On the bus, everybody got a bag with soda, water, two sandwiches, and two Danishes."
Then there's a trip the group took to Russia, where there are many sites of interest to Chabad Lubavitch. There were ten people, and they had a 24-hour layover in Moscow. "Everybody needed showers, so Guma went to a hotel in Red Square and took out ten rooms," Lipszyc recalls. "Anything Guma did, he did it first-class."
Sometimes that verged on the absurd, such as filmmaker Jerry Levine's recollection that Aguiar invited 14 friends to an NBA playoff game between the Miami Heat and the Dallas Mavericks and wrangled seats on the floor for everybody, including the dads of kids on his son's soccer team. "That's a little over-the-top," says Levine, whom Aguiar retained to make documentaries of his life and philanthropy.
That's a good way to describe most of what Aguiar did, from religious donations to his final disappearance. Read more in the feature story.
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