Goodbye To Our Family Friend, Rabbi Moshe Kotlarsky

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Rabbi Kotlarsky being Mesader Kiddushin at my wedding, November 2008, in Overland Park, Kansas
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Last week, I went to Crown Heights with my mother and grandfather, along with thousands of others to pay our final respects to a great man, Rabbi Moshe Kotlarsky. He passed away just shy of his 75th birthday in New York.

A visionary, he worked tirelessly for decades to bring the Lubavitcher Rebbe‘s vision to fruition. He constantly traveled the globe to support the Rebbe’s Shluchim, and was beloved by thousands, who could each write their own book about him. Even in his final years when he battled a lengthy illness, he was still busy with his mission and visited Shluchim and participated in regional gatherings worldwide.

The proof is in the pudding. Under his direction as Shliach of the Rebbe, the global network of Chabad centers has exploded to over 5,000. It’s no exaggeration to say that millions of Jews have been able to learn more Torah and do more Mitzvos thanks to his efforts to do everything to bring Moshiach. He personified the type of Chossid that the Rebbe would be proud of. He never settled for what was accomplished but looked at how much more work there was to do.

The fact that G-d didn’t feel the world was ready for Moshiach pained him personally. During his final illness, he felt like a reason for getting sick was from negative forces that wished to counter his push for the OneMitzvah campaign. If it was too successful in getting Jews to do more mitzvos, Moshiach would have to come. His final wish was for people to signup there to share mitzvos, for Bar Mitzvah bochurim to inspire classmates to do more good deeds, and that people should inspire others to do the same.

He was the dedicated organizer and emcee of the annual Kinus Hashluchim, which hosts thousands of Shluchim from around the world. His annual roll call of Shluchim before a call for spontaneous dancing was legendary.

And his impact on the world was massive:

 

The stories about him are no less legendary.

The story of the “Small” Jew in Curaçao is a powerful one about the Rebbe’s vision and devotion to every small Jew, and Rabbi Kotlarsky was proud to have served his part. I’m happy to have had a tiny part in the postscript to that story, which I’ll share below.

The emotional wedding story is another incredible one.

My family was no exception and our story is forever linked with Rabbi Kotlarsky as well.

My maternal grandparents, Ted and Vicky Cohn, may they live and be well, were not religious when they first met 23-year-old Rabbi Kotlarsky. Along with my Bubby’s siblings, they were introduced to Chabad in Cleveland and went on an annual community trip to Crown Heights for Simchas Torah from 1972 through 1979. My grandparents’ family was matched up to stay with Rabbi Kotlarsky, who was married to Cleveland native Rivka Kazen. Their family of 5 crammed into Rabbi Kotlarsky’s 2 bedroom apartment at 888 Montgomery St.

The philosophy of Chabad is that whenever you go somewhere, you aren’t going there on your own volition. You are being directed by G-d himself to go there to fulfill the purpose of the world’s creation. It’s a lesson I drove home when our DansDeals kosher cruise to Antarctica was temporarily diverted to the remote Falkland Islands. There is a purpose to this, so make a brocha, say over some Torah, and let’s elevate this corner of the Earth. In the end, the DansDeals reader who won a free cruise in a charity auction wound up printing the Tanya there for the first time.

Those trips were fateful indeed.

Within just a couple of months of their first trip to Rabbi Kotlarsky’s apartment, they would start keeping kosher and Shabbos. My grandparents attribute their decision to become religious in their 30s to Rabbi Kotlarsky, without which I wouldn’t be here today. His warm, down to Earth approach to Judaism, mixed with a very healthy dose of good humor, sold them on taking the leap of faith.

The first joke he remembers Rabbi Kotlarsky telling him? G-d told Moses to go forth, but he wound up placing fifth and G-d lost two bucks.

With the Rebbe’s blessings, they wound up going into business and traveled together, with the business cards showing Mo Kotlarsky and Ted Cohn as partners.

In July 1973, my mother was going to fly by herself to Boston and then Camp Emunah as an 11 year old. The day before her flight, Delta flight 723 crashed attempting to land there, killing 88 passengers. My grandfather called Rabbi Kotlarsky for the Rebbe’s advice about her flight and medical issues that my grandmother was having at the time.

Rabbi Kotlarsky typed up the note below and the Rebbe responded by circling the word that she was scared, and answering that there was nothing to fear at all. The Rebbe also noted in response to my grandmother’s problems, they should keep strictly kosher. Rabbi Kotlarsky said that meant to keep things like Bishul Yisroel, and my grandmother recovered from the issues she was having.

My Aunt in Boston said that it was a stormy day, but suddenly the sky cleared when her plane landed at Logan Airport, before returning to heavy storms afterward.

 

When Rabbi Kotlarsky started working for the Rebbe’s office, Rabbi Hodakov told him that he would get a small salary, but that he could collect a commission on funds raised, as is traditional for anyone raising funds. He refused to take a cent from funds raised, feeling that it was wrong to take away money that was intended for the Rebbe or the Shluchim.

In the end, he raised billions of dollars for Chabad and Shluchim worldwide, without taking any commission on those donations. When donors offered to help fix up his house, he refused to accept any help, only taking out another mortgage once he started collecting social security income. While others who raised those kinds of funds would be living quite the lifestyle, he lived modestly and Rabbi Kotlarsky’s kids used his final paycheck to cover his burial expenses. While he lamented not being able to leave his 9 kids with much, he said that he was leaving them each other.

He always refused to accept any money from my grandfather, only offering to pass it on to the Rebbe. That distressed him, so he went into Lowen’s Bake Shop and secretly paid off Rabbi Kotlarsky’s account there.

Rabbi Kotlarsky made a party for one of my Uncles’ Bar Mitzvahs in 1977 in his apartment, and when another uncle wasn’t eating, made sure to let him know that if he didn’t eat, he would only get 1 dessert. Later that year they moved to 398 Crown St and my mother stayed with the family for the year when she went to Bais Rivkah High School.

He also helped my grandparents’ family receive several private audiences (yechidus) with the Rebbe, and they have several miraculous stories that came out of that connection with the Rebbe.

My grandfather relates how impressed he was when Rabbi Kotlarsky was held up in Peru at gunpoint and had his tefilin stolen, mistaken for a jewelry bag. Nobody in Peru had a pair of Rabbeinu Tam tefilin at the time, so he rushed to buy and take a flight to another country so that he wouldn’t miss a day of wearing them.

My grandparents went with the Kotlarskys one Motzei Shabbos on the Staten Island Ferry (hey, it’s cheap entertainment!) when a young man’s yarmulka blew into the water. Rabbi Kotlarsky didn’t hesitate to reach under his hat and give him his yarmulka, despite his wife mentioning to him that he was giving away his favorite and hard to find yarmulka.

As a bochur, I had the opportunity to stay at Rabbi Kotlarsky’s house and shmooze with him many times. I was also roommates with his son Sruli in LA’s Yeshiva Ohr Elchonon Chabad.

He also made a surprise Bar Mitzvah party for JJ when he came to Crown Heights to receive his first aliya in the Rebbe’s office. At his house for the Friday night meal when JJ turned 13, he invited JJ’s camp counselors and friends to celebrate with him.

When my parents were engaged, Rabbi Kotlarsky gave my father insider tips so that he would be able to daven from the Rebbe’s siddur. The Rebbe also put his hands on my father’s head to give him a brocha, something that Rabbi Kotlarsky mentioned he hadn’t seen him do before.

Rabbi Kotlarsky was Mesader Kiddushin at my parents’ and my own wedding. In subsequent years, he would check in on our marriage, saying he always davened that the people he married off would have Shalom Bayis and stay together.

 

Rabbi Kazen, Rabbi Kotlarsky, my grandfather, and my father at his Kabalas ponim before his wedding in Beachwood, OH, December 1983:

 

My parents getting married by Rabbi Kotlarsky, Beachwood, OH, December 1983:

 

With Rabbi Kotlarsky and my father at my Kabalas ponim in Overland Park, KS, November 2008. My father’s beard had grown just a bit in the 25 years since he got married!

 

As for the Curaçao story, my shul brought out Rabbi Shais Taub to farbreng in Cleveland last year, and he spoke about Rabbi Kotlarsky’s influence on him moving to Five Towns, and then the Rebbe’s and Rabbi Kotlarsky’s hand in his son getting engaged to the granddaughter of the Jew in Curacao.

 

The story didn’t end there.

Rabbi Taub asked if we would also fly a Trumpet player, Mike Bogart, to Cleveland, which I happily agreed to. Mike spoke about recently leaving his band, the Tower of Power, as he was becoming religious and didn’t want to perform on Shabbos any longer. He went to the Ohel to daven by the Rebbe, pray for a shidduch, and ask for the strength to leave the band, and received a quick answer when he found a wedding invitation with a trumpet on it. An attendee at the Cleveland farbrengen loved his story and suggested a shidduch for him. It worked out and they got married several months later! At the wedding was a local shliach, whose sister was the kallah from the wedding invitation he found when davening at the Ohel…truly hashgocha protis.

As Rabbi Taub explained the Chasidus behind Adam Kadmon in the Hayom Yom for the 16th of Elul in the video above, when you do a favor to another, you are doing a favor to all of their progeny until the end of all generations.

People who think like that will never stop working to do a favor for another, and that was how the Rebbe, and his shliach, Rabbi Kotlarsky operated.

After the brutal murder of the Holtzbergs, Shluchim to Mumbai, in the 2008 terror attack, Rabbi Kotlarsky urged everyone to take strength and make the world a brighter place with torches of goodness and kindness.

 

At the end of a dedication in 2019 after the passing of Rebbetzin Kazen, her sons-in-law, Rabbi Kotlarsky and Rabbi Shabsi Alpern from Sao Paulo farbrenged and shared stories and life lessons with the community. He shared words of the Rebbe that made him cry, but also gave him strength after the Rebbe passed away in 1994.

 

But he also shared how his mother-in-law kept Kleenex in business. 😀

 

Rabbi Kotlarsky often related how it’s our job to bring Jews closer to Judaism, so that Shabbos doesn’t become Saturday or the weekend.

 

But thanks to him, the opposite happened in my family and countless other families.

Despite being incredibly busy, somehow everyone felt like they were Rabbi Kotlarsky’s best friend. My grandfather spoke with him every few weeks for decades, until recently when it became too difficult for him to talk on the phone.

Rabbi Kotlarsky exemplified what it means to love and care about his fellow Jews and we can all take a lesson from that.

Want to participate in his legacy?

 

He founded OneMitzvah 2 years ago. You can enroll here to do a mitzvah for his 75th Birthday.

And you can donate to keep his legacy going.

It was heartwarming to see so many thousands participate in paying their final respects.

 

But C.D.S.G. (Chasidim don’t say goodbye). We know that we’ll see each other again very soon.

Baruch Dayan Haemes, may the neshama of Moshe Yehuda ben Tzvi Yosef have an aliya and storm the heavens to bring Moshiach now.

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35 Comments On "Goodbye To Our Family Friend, Rabbi Moshe Kotlarsky"

All opinions expressed below are user generated and the opinions aren’t provided, reviewed or endorsed by any advertiser or DansDeals.

lcm

Really, really beautiful.
Thank you for sharing.

Moe

+1

Flyerman

Beautiful Moving Tribute.

Zevy

Wow thank you for this. Best article I’ve ever read on DansDeals

no lashon hara

Same. Incredible.

Dimples

Such a beautiful tribute.

I always love watching the shluchim conference online and always watched Rabbi Kotlarsky’s roll call. Even though I’m not Chabad, there is always something to learn from all the speakers. The roll call always gave me chills as we see how far and wide and ever expanding the mission of the Rebbe’s clarion call is fulfilled.

J

I had tears reading this. Thank you for sharing

Gary G

Straight from the heart. Beautiful

Joe

Thanks Dan!

Club2000

Shkoyech dan for sharing !

Tavster

Truly beautiful and inspiring.
Thanks for sharing

Elana K

Baruch Dayan haemet. Thanks for sharing

yelped

Wow, really beautiful. There are special people who have walked this earth.

luvtotravel

incredible and beautifully written! true inspiration!

SGM

Beautiful, heartfelt tribute! Your best writing ever!

Bestwachman

Thank you Dan. Beautiful tribute for a larger than life individual. May his family and all those he welcomed as family find solace.

Mendy

Beautiful post!
Thank you for sharing

Sara

Thank you, Dan. Your tribute to Rabbi Kotlarsky was so beautifully composed and so completely heartfelt that it personalized for those of us who weren’t privileged to have had the close relationship your family enjoyed the enormous loss of this great Chosid to Lubavitchers everywhere.

dov

they hosted me once and made me a yummy breakfast

Alex

Beautiful post!
Can you explain the punchline to the first joke he told your grandparents?
Thanks

Yisrael Deren

Thank you so much for that.

Dovid Egert

As a member of the US military, I appreciate the workings of CHABAD. I have utilized the assistance of numerous shluchim over the last 7 years due to my families global travels

Shmarya Richler

Hi, I just read your article. You mention that you happily agreed to have Mike Bogart come to Cleveland. Given that you “happily agreed” to Rabbi Taub’s suggestion you also have a hand in the tremendous hashgocho protis leading to Mike meeting his wife Esther who is my daughter. I must thank you for being a part of it.
Shmarya Richler

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