A Chassid Made in America!
This is the story of a chassid, a chassid whose life begins and ends in Illinois, a chassid who devoted his life to bringing the light of Torah and chassidus to his hometown. It is a story of 59 years of commitment to the Rebbe, Chabad, and the Jewish people.
The story of Rabbi Daniel Yitzchok Moscowitz begins with his parents, Frank (Ephraim) and Cynthia (Tzivia) Moscowitz, two school teachers who worked hard to build a warm chassidic home in the Windy City.
Under the influence of Rabbi Solomon S. Hecht, shaliach of the Previous Rebbe—Rabbi Joseph I. Schneerson, of righteous memory—Ephraim had studied as a teen in the nascent Chabad yeshivah in Brooklyn, N.Y for four years. Afterward he went on to serve in the Army.
Cynthia was raised in the West Rogers Park neighborhood of Chicago, where her father was the first president of what was then the neighborhood’s only synagogue. Always curious, she asked to attend Hebrew school, even though she was the only girl there.The two met in Roosevelt College in 1951, where they were both studying education. They soon became engaged.Through her husband-to-be, she came to know Rabbi and Rebbetzin. Hecht, whom the couple came to regard as personal mentors and very dear friends.
While preparing for her wedding, Cynthia met Rebbetzin Chava Devorah (Evelyn) Shusterman, whose husband, Rabbi Herschel (Harold) Shusterman, was the rabbi of the prestigious B’nei Ruven synagogue. She would later recall how impressed she was by the young woman, who was then expecting a child and freezing food to serve in the event that there would be a bris. Yet, she took the time to meet with a young couple preparing for their wedding.
Three years after their marriage, on 8 Sivan, 5714 (June 9, 1954), they were blessed with a son, whom they named Daniel Yitzchok.
At his bris, Rabbi Hecht tucked a photograph of the Rebbe—Rabbi Menachem M. Schneerson of righteous memory—under the baby’s pillow, and a congratulatory letter from the Rebbe was read.
Sixteen months later, he was followed by Dovid Moshe. Then came Eliyahu Nachum (Elly), who was followed by Menachem Mendel.
Even as a toddler, Mrs. Moscowitz recalls that her firstborn was a responsible child, whom she would sometimes leave alone with his younger brother while she would dash downstairs to throw in a load of laundry.
Wishing to give their son the stellar Jewish day-school education they never had, they enrolled him in Bais Yaakov Parochial School, which had just opened a few years prior. The classes were small, and young Daniel soon became close friends with the other Chabad boys in his class, including the Shustermans’ son, Mendel.
Both Mr. and Mrs. Moscowitz worked full time for the Chicago public school system, with Mr. Moscowitz--who soon became principal of a public school on the South Side of Chicago--also serving first as a Talmud Torah teacher in B’nei Ruven and then as secular studies principal at the Hebrew Theological College (Skokie Yeshivah) high school. Yet, they found time to be active in the emerging Orthodox community in West Rogers Park. Mrs. Moscowitz was among the leaders of N’shei Chabad and served on the chevra kadisha burial society. Mr. Moscowitz was instrumental in the founding and leadership of a number of neighborhood congregations.
Even as he and his wife extended themselves for their growing family and community, Ephraim found time to learn, regularly attending Rabbi Hecht’s Ohr Hachaim class.
When Daniel was 10 years old, he attended the Chabad sleepaway camp in Michigan. “Daniel came back a different child,” recalls his mother. “It was really a life-changing experience for him. From then on he knew the direction he was going. He would be a chassid of the Rebbe.”
Inspired by Rabbis Shusterman and Hecht, Daniel gravitated naturally toward chassidism, always tugging his family toward greater commitment.
A bright and eager student, he advanced quickly and learned with boys older than himself. Thus he celebrated his bar mitzvah in 8th grade (he was also class president that year). It was the first celebration held in the newly built B’nei Ruven sanctuary and social hall on Devon Ave.
When Rabbi Shusterman took his son Mendel to have a private audience with the Rebbe in honor of his bar mitzvah, Daniel came along. Being in the Rebbe’s presence served to cement a relationship that would only grow stronger and deeper as the years progressed. When it came time for high school, Daniel wanted to learn in one of the Chabad yeshivahs on the East Coast, but his parents were not yet ready to let their firstborn son leave home.
Thus, for the 9th and 10th grades he learned in Telshe Yeshivah, which was a significant sacrifice for his parents, for whom gaining a secular education had always been an important ideal.
Finally, after two years, he managed to convince his parents that he was old enough to learn in one of the Rebbe’s yeshivahs. Acting upon the advice of Rabbi Hecht, the Moscowitzs took a road trip to Montreal, with a letter of recommendation from Rabbi Hecht, to assess the yeshivah there, and only then did the doting parents let their precious son leave their care.
Upon arrival, he settled into the dormitory and quickly accustomed himself to the intense learning and contemplative prayer that typified the Montreal Chabad community in those years. Although he did not speak Yiddish, it took mere months for him to catch up with the fluency of his peers. He was strongly influenced by Reb Zev Volf Greenglass, who served as the mashpia (mentor) for both the yeshivah students and the community.
It was there that he met Yisroel Edelman from Springfield, Mass., with whom he would study both Talmud and chassidic texts for a number of years.
“Daniel was a very conscientious student,” recalls Rabbi Edelman, now rabbi of Young Israel of Deerfield Beach, Fla. “One reason was that he knew that his parents would only agree to send his three younger brothers to Chabad yeshivahs if he would do well, and he took that responsibility seriously.” Indeed, he was followed shortly by his brother Moshe, who joined him in Montreal.
Beyond the study hall, Daniel threw himself into spreading Judaism, actively promoting the mitzvah campaigns that the Rebbe was unveiling at that time.
Before Chanukah—and this was before the advent of the tin cut-out menorah—he and his friends got a drill press and crafted wooden menorahs which they outfitted with metal inserts and painted. They then distributed them to Jewish individuals and families all around town.
“He was a natural leader with a take-charge personality,” says Rabbi Edelman. “He always wanted to get things done. He was very passionate, and had a knack for getting other people excited and involved as well.”
Following the success of the menorah distribution campaign, the two friends found themselves as guests on the local Jewish radio program discussing their experiences. The thousands of listeners could never have guessed that the two “rabbis” were barely old enough to drive to the studio. In fact, a woman later called up wishing to speak to the Rabbi Moscowitz who had been on the radio.
An appointment was made for a meeting, and in a spare classroom in the yeshivah, Daniel graciously ushered her into his “office” and provided her with the guidance she sought.
Doing the Rebbe’s Work
In early 1970, the Rebbe held a grand farbrengen on 10 Shevat, marking 20 years since the passing of the Previous Rebbe. Along with his classmates and teachers, Daniel traveled to New York to participate. It was his second time seeing the Rebbe. This time he was a student in the Rebbe’s yeshivah.
At that momentous occasion, the Rebbe presided over the finishing of “Moshiach’s Sefer Torah,” which the Previous Rebbe had initiated decades prior. Being with the Rebbe for that majestic event was a memory that Daniel would cherish for the rest of his life.
After learning in Montreal for several years, the two young men wanted to transfer to Brooklyn, where they would be able to be closer to the Rebbe, but the yeshivah administration insisted that they remain in Montreal.
After protracted cajoling—and even leaving to New York once without permission—the two were finally allowed to transfer to Brooklyn, where they continued their studies in yeshivah’s branch housed in Chovevei Torah on Eastern Parkway.
But it wouldn’t last long. Mere months later, in 1974, the Rebbe dispatched them and their peers to destinations all over the world. The pair was among those sent to serve as student-mentors at the Chabad yeshivah in Brunoy, outside of Paris.
They were part of a group of high-spirited young men who were often at odds with the austere old-school administration and gained fame as “di vilde shevet” (the wild band).
Always on the lookout for opportunities to share Judaism, Daniel arranged to travel to England, where he and his peers spoke at Jewish schools there in honor of 10 Shevat.
That summer, he and his friend, Dovid Weitman—now a Chabad emissary to Brazil—traveled on Merkos Shlichus, going to small villages and towns in Belgium and Sweden to visit the Jews living scattered across the two countries.
They were honored when, weeks later, the Rebbe remarked to Rabbi Benyamin Gorodetsky, the Rebbe’s shaliach to Europe, “I got a report from Sweden that the yeshivah students were very successful.”
During the summer months from 1971 to 1975, Daniel’s uniquely warm and active personality came to the fore when he served as a counselor and then head counselor of Gan Israel overnight camps in both Montreal and Detroit. In fact, there was one summer in Detroit that he arranged for camp to be extended for one more week. Since the regular cook had gone home, he took responsibility for meal planning. He would later joke that the children ate a lot of egg and salami that week.
Whenever Daniel and his friends returned home from yeshivah for the holidays, they would arrange a Kinus Torah, a gathering where yeshivah students on break would share novel Torah thoughts with each other.
The event had begun as early as 1964 in B’nei Ruven and was then held in a succession of synagogues. Rabbi Zelig Gottlieb, who organized the gatherings from their inception until 1973, says that it was there in 1967 that he first met a 12-year-old Daniel Moscowitz, who had come for the first time with his friends the Shustermans. Years later, he would come to lead the gatherings himself.
Rabbi Moscowitz would often recall that some of his peers would deride him and his Chabad friends for “wasting” time that could be used for Torah study to give out matzahs or help people make the blessings over the lulav and esrog—yet when it came time to share a Torah thought at the Kinus Torah, they were too busy at the ballgame.
After his year in France, Daniel returned to Brooklyn, where he planned to study in the Central Chabad Yeshivah and bask in the Rebbe’s presence. But it was just weeks later that he became engaged to Esther Rochel Aronow of Toronto, Canada.
The young bride and groom merited to be among the last to be received by the Rebbe for a private audience in his office, a practice that was soon discontinued due to the high pressure of the Rebbe’s schedule.
They presented the Rebbe with two possible wedding dates, and the Rebbe advised them to marry on the earlier date. He also counseled Daniel to learn a tractate of Talmud, as is customary for someone marrying a daughter of a Kohen. At the wedding, which was held in Toronto, Rabbi Hecht officiated and spoke emotionally, saying that he felt like a grandfather bringing a beloved grandchild to the chuppah.
The young couple made their home in Crown Heights while Rabbi Moscowitz completed his studies for rabbinic ordination.
Yet, from the get-go, they knew that they would serve as emissaries of the Rebbe, and their dream was to do so in Chicago. When they suggested the possibility to the Rebbe, he told them that his approval was conditional on Rabbi Hecht’s agreement. Although others had asked and been refused, Rabbi Hecht did indeed agree to have Rabbi Moscowitz join him in Chicago, and a new era began.
Inspiring a New Generation
They arrived just before the High Holidays of 1976 with no apartment, no funds, and no salary. But they were full of confidence and optimism that would serve them well in the years to come.
Rabbi Moscowitz’s official position was “administrative assistant,” but his mandate was to expand Chabad activities into many new frontiers, with a special emphasis on youth.
Living in the basement of his parents’ Chicago bungalow, Rabbi Moscowitz began establishing contacts with students and faculty at the nearby Northwestern University, which he sensed would be fertile ground for a Chabad center.
One of his first accomplishments was to host a 19 Kislev celebration where Rabbis Hecht and Shusterman shared the podium.
“One of the challenges he faced,” says a friend, “was that he grew up in Chicago, and people remembered him as a little boy. Yet, with his typical determination, cheer, and wisdom, he was able to quickly establish himself as leader of the community.”
He was also a gifted orator with a booming voice, blessed with a knack of finding the right words for the right occasion and delivering them with finesse.
In that first year, the Rebbe advised a number of young couples to settle in Chicago, planting the seeds of what has become a community of several hundred strong—and growing.
Even though they were not official emissaries, Rabbi Moscowitz made it very clear that there was plenty of work for everyone to do and that every chassid has the responsibility to take part of the Rebbe’s work, sharing Judaism with all Jews.
The Moscowitz home saw many rousing farbrengens (chassidic gatherings), with notable guests, such as Rabbis Mendel Futerfas and Shmuel Dovid Reitchik, who came every year to raise funds, and other elder chassidim.
“I don’t remember much of what was said at those farbrengens,” says Rabbi Shalom Dov Lubin who attended many gatherings as a child, “but I can still hear the lively niggunim (melodies) and the pounding on the tables, and I can still taste the tomato and onion salad that was always a staple at those farbrengens. The inspiration that I saw in Rabbi Moscowitz had a profound impact on me.”
Rabbi Lubin remembers a farbrengen when Rabbi Moscowitz encouraged people to use their Jewish names. One person said, “I just started at a new job, and they just put my secular name plaque on the door outside my office.” Without missing a beat, Rabbi Moscowitz said, “So tell them you made a mistake and that this is your real name!”
Rabbi Moscowitz valued Torah study very much—particularly the daily classes instituted by the Rebbe and his predecessors. Not a day would go by without studying the daily portion, including three chapters of Maimonides’ Mishneh Torah.
Every time he went to New York--which was quite often--he would purchase newly released sefarim. He would then read through each one before finding it a place on his ever-expanding collection of bookshelves.
Of course, he made sure to gently encourage others to study as well, and learned with many people on a regular basis.
At the shiva, a visitor shared that he had come to study the entire Talmud due to Rabbi Moscowitz’s chiding. “Rabbi Moscowitz saw that a friend’s set of Talmud was perfectly neat—too neat,” the visitor recalled, “and he remarked that he needed to use it more. That inspired me to study the entire Talmud over the course of the next few years.”
Rabbi Moscowitz also continued to hold the annual Kinus Torah, recruiting and encouraging the young presenters, hosting the event, and listening with obvious delight until the last of the students shared his presentation. In later years, he was assisted by his sons, who recruited fellow students to speak and helped with other arrangements.
Humbly Leading an Empire
After less than a year of holding holiday programs, establishing contacts, delivering one-on-one Torah classes, and planning, the Moscowitzs founded Gan Israel day camp in the summer of 1977. “We did everything ourselves,” recalls Mrs. Moscowitz. “I made the sandwiches, and he drove the bus every day.”
After Rabbi Hecht passed away in the summer of 1979, Rabbi Moscowitz was appointed to succeed him as regional director of Lubavitch Chabad in the state.
A major milestone was the founding of Cheder Lubavitch Hebrew day school, which opened on the 18th of Ellul in the fall of 1979 with five girls. Mrs. Moscowitz served as the first teacher and principal. The next year, Rabbi and Mrs. Binyomin Scheiman were brought to Chicago to serve as fellow shluchim to Illinois. Mrs. Scheiman became a teacher at Cheder, and Rabbi Scheiman took a position in the outreach arm of Lubavitch Chabad. In the coming years, the school would continue to grow and flourish under the leadership of Rabbi Yitzchok Wolf.
With the years, Lubavitch Chabad of Illinois grew. First the Tannenbaum Chabad House (which housed what was then called the Lubavitch Chabad House of Greater Chicago) was established in Evanston (1977), then Northwest Suburban Chabad opened in Highland Park by Rabbi and Mrs. Yosef Schanowitz (1980), followed by a branch in Skokie lead by Rabbi and Mrs. Yosef Posner (1982).
F.R.E.E. (Friends of Refugees of Eastern Europe) was another burgeoning organization that had been founded by Mrs. Reitza Kosofsky. In 1981, Rabbi and Mrs. Shmuel Notik came to Chicago and took a leading role in expanding the scope of its many activities. They created a warm and welcoming home for the Jewish people escaping the Iron Curtain and their children.
Concurrently, Rabbi Moscowitz oversaw the opening of youth groups, senior’s programs and a prison chaplaincy division. As the organization grew, a cadre of shluchim joined the Lubavitch Chabad staff.
Among his peers, he was affectionately known as “Rabbi M.,” and widely respected as a devoted leader, one who was always eager to roll up his sleeves and tackle whatever tasks were at hand.
An example would be his involvement in the founding of and continued running of Lubavitch Girls High School. Even as his workload grew, he always found time to teach there, imbuing a generation of young women with chassidic warmth. Mrs. Moscowitz also served as a beloved teacher since the school’s founding and became principal in 2004.
Rabbi Moscowitz was a natural peacemaker, helping both parties find common ground and showing by example how to bridge the gap between disparate worldviews, and personalities.
He worked hard to make room for every shaliach, ensuring that there was space for everyone to fulfill their potential.
Following Rabbi Hecht’s precedent, Rabbi Moscowitz hosted a weekly radio show called “L’Chvod Shabbat,” which formed an integral part of the Friday routine of thousands of listeners across Chicagoland and brought the light of Torah and chassidism into countless homes.
While the budget of Lubavitch Chabad increased regularly, Rabbi Moscowitz struggled valiantly to keep up with the increasing expenses associated with a dynamic and broad organization.
Rabbi Posner—who served among other duties as bookkeeper of Lubavitch Chabad of Illinois—recalls submitting a weekly accounting to Rabbi Moscowitz, listing the bills that needed to be paid that week. When money was tight, Rabbi Moscowitz would indicate which bills to pay and then divide the remainder among the shluchim families, since there was not enough to pay full salaries. Even though he was the most senior of the shluchim, he never took more for his family than for the others.
Often, Rabbi Moscowitz would then discreetly share from his own portion with others whom he sensed were in need.
For many decades Rabbi Moscowitz lead couples groups in a number of suburbs, where Jewish men and women got together to study Torah, share their lives, and support each other. Although he was a rabbi with a long brown beard, no-one felt intimidated in his presence, and the sessions provided a wholesome and safe environment where people were able to open up and be honest with themselves and their peers. Over the years, many of the couples made great strides in their Jewish observance, some becoming completely religious.
“I was somewhat hesitant, I am a strong-minded, independent woman, and was worried that he would be judgmental and not friendly, says Karen Lifchitz about her first time attending the Northbrook group. “I was immediately taken aback and surprised at how sensible and respectful Rabbi Moscowitz was to me. I immediately realized this was a unique person.”
Marcy Goldberg was a longstanding participant in another group. Through her interactions with the rabbi--whom she says had a “a profoundly positive influence” on her--she invited him to kosher her kitchen. Then, on the way out, almost as an afterthought, he said: “You know, in order to keep your kitchen kosher, you need to make sure not to cook in these pots and pans on Shabbat or holidays.” She has been keeping kosher and Shabbat ever since.
She also volunteered to oversee a hospital visitation program in her area in 1990. She now estimates that her team of dedicated volunteers have made at least 35,000 pre-Shabbos visits. “That’s how Rabbi Moscowitz was” she reflects, “He had this ability to get you to do more than you knew you were capable of.”
New Chabad Centers
Throughout the decades, new Chabad centers popped up all over the state. In many instances Rabbi Moscowitz established and cultivated local support and then arranged for a young couple to found a permanent center.
A case in point would be the Chabad Center for Jewish Life in Downtown Chicago which the rabbi founded in 1987 as an outgrowth of the lunchtime Torah class he led in the city center for two years prior.
By the time of his passing, there were more than 40 centers in 21 cities across the state.
A Family Affair
Together with his wife, Rabbi Moscowitz took an active role in raising their children. Following Shterna Sara, who was born in 1976, the family grew to include: Meir Shimon (1978), Yosef Shmuel (1980), Zelik (1981), Chana (1982), Rivka (1984), Chava (1987), Leibel (1988), and Chaya Mushka (1989).
Then living in a modest two-bedroom home on Whipple Street in West Rogers Park, the Moscowitz family had very little in the way of material riches, yet “the house felt like a mansion, full of warmth and hospitality, vibrant with guests,” says Rabbi Yosef Shmuel, who currently serves as executive director of Lubavitch Chabad of Illinois, “The energy at home gave us a sense that we lacked nothing, and our mission in life was to share G-d with the world, to make the world a home for G-d, full of love, life and passion for Judaism.”
The Moscowitz family made frequent trips to New York to be with the Rebbe on Simchas Torah and other occasions.
In fact, the children were involved in every aspect of their father’s work. From singing at the Shabbos table and entertaining guests, to collating the weekly booklets with the Rebbe’s teachings, they understood that they were shluchim with their own share of the responsibility and privilege.
The older boys and their friends founded the “Ad Mosai Club,” where boys would get together to study Torah and perform mitzvahs. One memorable activity was singing for seniors who participated in the classes arranged under Tiferes Zekeinim which had been founded in 1980. With time these projects grew in scope and sophistication with the boys taking lead roles in organizing Sukkahmobiles, car-top menorahs, Mitzvah Tank parades, and other activities whenever they were home from yeshivah.
In 1983, approximately 65 shluchim from all across North America gathered in Brooklyn for a conference, where they studied Torah and shared ideas and inspiration. In an era when long-distance calls were prohibitively expensive and fax and email were nonexistent, it was a welcomed opportunity for the young chassidim to feel that they are not alone, however remote they may have physically been from each other. Rabbi Moscowitz was among them.
“He was there at every kinus (conference) and he enjoyed them and was a very active participant,” says Rabbi Lipa Brennan, who coordinates the International Conference of Chabad Lubavitch Emissaries. “As the conferences grew and we formed a committee of shluchim to plan them, it was natural that he was part of the committee.”
Rabbi Moscowitz was particularly known for the motzoei Shabbos (Saturday night), session which he planned and often hosted. The theme and format would change every year, and Rabbi Moscowitz invested painstaking efforts into ensuring that it would be informative, enjoyable, and engaging.
He was also a beloved leader at the all-night farbrengen in 770 that followed the banquet, where his booming voice was always heard above the din.
“He was a clear thinker,” recalls Rabbi Brennan. “Every year we meet several months in advance to plan the conference. There are a lot of us sitting around the table, and a lot of ideas float around. Rabbi Moscowitz had the unique ability to cut through the confusion and steer the conversation toward a conclusion. He wouldn’t force his opinions on the group, but it was very often that his suggestions were reflected in the final decision. When we sat together for the first time after his passing for our planning session, we were all looking at each other saying, ‘Who will help us decide how to proceed?’ We missed him sorely.”
Interestingly the exact same sentiments were expressed by Rabbi Leonard Matanky, with whom Rabbi Moscowitz worked closely at the cRc (Chicago Rabbinical Council), who said, “When there was an issue, he cut to the chase. He was able to identify the matter immediately, and that was very valuable. He knew where he could help. He understood how to move things forward.”
Judaism in Public
In 1979, Rabbi Moscowitz hosted a novel program called “Sukkah Fest” on Daley Plaza, outside the premier civic center of the City of Chicago in the heart of downtown. This annual event led to the eventual placement of a permanent sukkah on the plaza.
From the early 1980s, Rabbi Moscowitz erected and presided over the lighting of an oversized Chanukah menorah on Daley Plaza.
Soon concerns of separation of church and state lead to a protracted court battle. With the assistance of attorney Gary (Gershon) Sternberg, the issue was resolved and a large menorah continues to be lit there every year for the duration of the 8-day holiday.
Since the 1990s, there have also been annual car-top menorah parades and pre-Passover mitzvah tank parades orchestrated by energetic young men on their yeshiva breaks.
Another high-profile event inaugurated in the early years was the Lag Baomer Parade, held whenever the holiday falls out on a Sunday.
The first parade consisted of a group of young mothers walking with their babies in strollers. By the mid-1980s the parades expanded to include mitzvah-themed floats, marching bands, and more. The parades were followed by carnivals—first in the yard of the Associated Talmud Torah building on Pratt Ave, then the J.C.C. on Touhy Ave. and then at Warren Park.
Since 2011, the parades have become The Great Jewish Family Festival, held on the grounds of the Old Orchard Westfield Mall in Skokie.
There is also a full-time mitzvah tank, staffed and maintained by community volunteers. “I will be forever grateful for the faith Rabbi Moscowitz put in me and the opportunity he gave me to take the reins of a Mitzvah Tank project,” says Yehuda Sugar, who spearhead the tank program from 1998 to 2011. “I was greatly encouraged by his confidence in the program even as a part-time endeavor.”
As a leader of a rapidly growing empire of Chabad houses, it was only natural that he was selected in 2009 to serve as a member of the board of Merkos L’Inyonei Chinuch, the educational arm of Chabad-Lubavitch. In 2011, he was appointed to the five-member executive board.
“There were times when he would fly to New York every week,” says Mrs. Moscowitz, “When he needed to, he took the less-popular stand on certain issues, but that never deterred him. He was a man of truth and he stuck to his principles no matter what.”
He also served on the coordinating committee of American Friends of Lubavitch events in Washington, D.C., and as a board member of Chabad's Children of Chernobyl international rescue efforts.
As a leading shaliach, Rabbi Moscowitz was called to communities where he would lead chassidic gatherings and advise local emissaries.
Rabbi Shmuel Lew of Chabad Lubavitch U.K. Headquarters in London--who came to know Rabbi Moscowitz at the conference and then developed a close personal relationship--describes his friend as a “larger-than-life person, who was a giant among men.”
“He was the kind of person who went out of his way for others in ways that were above and beyond what you’d expect,” says Rabbi Lew, who consulted with Rabbi Moscowitz on a number of communal issues. “I always considered him a dear friend, and it was only after his passing that I realized how many others there were who felt the same way.”
One of those people is Rabbi Michoel Green, Chabad emissary to Westborough, Mass. “I was a newlywed, visiting my wife's family in Chicago for the summer, he recalls. “Reb Daniel asked me to speak in shul after minchah on a fast day. Of course, I was honored and prepared a class. Rabbi Moscowitz attended my talk and commended me afterward for a great presentation. But then, privately, he pointed out several errors in my talk. At least one was a glaring mistake. Then, in an upbeat and friendly way, he boosted my confidence and reassured me that it was a good shiur despite the minor mistakes, and that I should continue to teach.
“Over the years, I have recalled this episode and marveled that he didn't correct me right in the middle of my talk. He was such a caring person, a true mentsh, mindful not to cause embarrassment to me at that formative time in my life.
“Rabbi Moscowitz was not only a head shaliach to Illinois. He was a mashpia and an inspiration to shluchim everywhere. In fact, I moved to my present posting in Massachusetts because of his guidance and encouragement.
“Over the years, I would call him for advice in big and small matters. Incredibly, with his busy schedule and myriads of responsibilities (I'm sure that is an understatement), he always made time to speak with me as both a fatherly figure and a friend,” concludes Rabbi Green.
He also traveled to places as far as Israel and Russia, to farbreng with the local communities, instantly connecting with people, somehow transcending cultural and linguistic barriers.
Rabbi Posner recalls an instance when an out-of-state yeshivah was in danger of losing its accreditation due to certain misunderstandings. Although it was hundreds of miles away, Rabbi Moscowitz made it his business to help. The two even traveled together to the home of an accreditation official in New York to straighten things out.
“He was a person to whom a word of the Rebbe was precious,” continues Rabbi Lew. “It’s not only things he heard from the Rebbe, but he instinctively knew what the Rebbe wants and would then go and do something about it. He had a dynamic energy coupled with tremendous sensitivity to others.”
A prime example would be his involvement in the production of “Lamplighters,” a book showcasing the philosophy of Chabad and its dynamic presence in Jewish communities all over the world.
In 1987, a committee of shluchim had been working on the book, and projected that it would finish after several months. The Rebbe urged them to go to press with the expectation that a book go to print in a matter of days.
Knowing how important the project was to the Rebbe, Rabbi Moscowitz dropped everything and flew to New York, where he stayed for ten days, literally not leaving the production office. He oversaw every aspect of the ad-hoc publishing crew and made sure everything was produced in the most professional manner.
The result was the stunningly beautiful and thoroughly researched coffee table book called, “The Lamplighters.”
Shortly after his return to Chicago, Rabbi Moscowitz reprinted the book with a special section focusing on the activities of Lubavitch Chabad of Illinois.
From the late 1990s onwards, Rabbi Moscowitz was also an active leader in the cRc, which he joined at the advice of Rabbi Shusterman. He went on to serve as president of the organization from 2007 to 2009. At the time of his passing, he was the chairman of the bais din committee and active in a number of other committees.
One of his accomplishments was the recruitment of Rabbi Yona Reiss to serve as av bais din, (chief justice).
“Rabbi Moscowitz was like Aaron the High Priest,” said Rabbi Reiss about his late associate. “Aaron was known for loving every person and bringing them close to Torah. Likewise, Rabbi Moscowitz sought to draw everyone near through his warmth, friendship, love of every individual and the absolute delight that he took in their every accomplishment.
“The Chicago community wouldn’t be the same today without his efforts and accomplishments. His success in building so many Jewish institutions throughout the state is a testament to his ability to convey his fervor and passion to everyone he encountered,” he continued. “He was beloved by all because he loved everyone, and his warm presence is still felt by every individual and institution that he touched.”
Rabbi Moscowitz would often meet with public officials, including presidents Ronald Reagan, George W. Bush, and Barack Obama and a succession of mayors, governors, and congressmen. In fact, in 1994, he was proclaimed to be an exemplary model of public service and leadership by Chicago Mayor Richard M. Daley. Yet, he remained approachable and affable to every person he met—even small children.
“I remember when I was very young I used to join [the Moscowitz] family for holiday meals,” says Elliot Cole. “Rabbi Moscowitz used to sing ‘we learn Torah and do mitzvahs and we serve Hashem with joy,’ and I’d go home and go around my own house singing this song he taught me.”
Shluchim and others—many of them his contemporaries or his seniors— would often seek the rabbi’s council, knowing that he would give them level-headed advice in complete confidence.
When pressed for specific instances of her husband’s endeavors, Mrs. Moscowitz answers truthfully: “My husband was taught by Rabbi Hecht that things that were told to him in confidence were to be shared with nobody—not even me—so I myself don’t know the details of many of the things he did.”
The Rabbi of Two Chabad Centers
In 1995, following the passing of the Rebbe, Rabbi Moscowitz—together with Rabbi Baruch Epstein—founded the first institution in the state to bear the Rebbe’s name, Bais Menachem, a Chabad center in the northern tip of West Rogers Park with the motto, “It’s not just a shul, but it’s family.” And indeed, an extended family grew around the congregation.
The premises also became the central offices of Lubavitch Chabad of Illinois. Despite sharing cramped quarters with many others, Rabbi Moscowitz was not an intimidating presence. On the contrary, everyone from teenage camp counselors to synagogue regulars knew they had a genuine friend with whom to speak.
A congregant recalls that he was once experiencing financial difficulties and his face was sullen. “Your face is not yours,” Rabbi Moscowitz told him. “It’s public property. When people see you so worried, they begin to worry as well, and you have no right to cause so many people to be unhappy.”
Just five years later, members of Rabbi Moscowitz’s Northbrook couples group requested a permanent Chabad center.
After a great deal of thought, Rabbi and Mrs. Moscowitz and their children moved to Northbrook and established Lubavitch Chabad of Northbrook in the summer of 2001.
A Second Generation
In 2003, they were joined in Northbrook by their children, Rabbi Meir S. and Miriam Moscowitz, and the community blossomed into its current vibrant state.
Rabbi Daniel Moscowitz marshalled his oratory skills to deliver insightful sermons laced with chassidic wisdom that regularly drew hundreds to the Chabad center’s services and lively holiday celebrations.
In the years that followed, a new crop of Chabad emissaries came to Illinois. A number of them were children of local shluchim, who either came to work alongside their parents or open centers of their own. “My father took special delight in seeing this second generation,” says Rabbi Yosef Shmuel, “recognizing the beauty of the special chain forming new links within the state.”
In fact, shortly after Rabbi Yosef Shmuel and his wife Sara returned to Chicago in 2006 to found a Chabad center in Bucktown, this link became especially personal.
“We were still living in my parents’ house and looking for a place in Bucktown,” recalls Rabbi Yosef Shmuel. “I was in the car with my father and we were driving to Sunday morning services together. Suddenly he told me to drive him to the hospital. He was having a major heart attack.”
Rabbi Yosef Shmuel was appointed a month earlier to take an active role in the administration of Lubavitch Chabad, working alongside his father.
He says that when he began helping bear the financial burden of Lubavitch Chabad of Illinois, he was shocked at “how my father was able to smile as if he didn’t have a worry in the world despite the tremendous financial pressures he faced.”
In the next eight years, Chabad in Illinois grew tremendously, with the opening of eighteen new Chabad centers, thus nearly doubling the number of Chabad institutions, and the commencement of many new programs, such as the Stuart I Raskas Friendship Circle.
“Rabbi Moscowitz was in many ways the model head shaliach,” says Rabbi Posner, “celebrating the successes of each individual shaliach and organization and making sure that each shaliach was able to function with minimal hindrance.”
In the second half of 2013, he began working on an ambitious building campaign. Together with Rabbi Yosef Shmuel and Rabbi Epstein, he was working with architects and supporters to build a replica of 770 in Illinois, a greatly expanded Bais Menachem that would serve as a fitting nerve center for the giant network of Chabad Houses and institutions all over the state. But alas, he never saw that project to completion.
A Third Generation
Rabbi Moscowitz became a grandfather at the young age of 45. He developed a unique relationship with each of his grandchildren--those living nearby and those in New York and Montreal. He shared in their joys and took pride in their accomplishments. He was able to relate to each one and enjoyed sharing his wisdom and wealth of chassidic stories with them and teaching them Torah. Despite his demanding schedule, he made time to join them for special birthdays, milestones, and family outings. He was beloved by each of his grandchildren, who called him the “best zaidy ever.”
Just three months before his passing, he merited to attend the bar mitzvah of his oldest grandson, Zelik Newman, in New York.
“Rabbi Moscowitz was an inspirational leader and true chassid,” declared Rabbi Moshe Kotlarsky, vice chairman of the Merkos L’Inyonei Chinuch, with whom he shared a long and productive personal and professional relationship. “He was energetic, caring and dedicated. He was a close friend to everyone, and an active voice on behalf of Torah and Judaism. Rabbi Moscowitz was someone who put the cause of the community and the Rebbe’s vision before everything else. Many shluchim would seek his advice on a variety of issues. His insights and unforgettable personality have left a powerful stamp on thousands of minds and hearts in Illinois and beyond.”
Extending his “deepest heartfelt condolences on behalf of all the shluchim worldwide to the Moscowitz family, to his wife, children and parents,” Rabbi Yehuda Krinsky, chairman of Merkos L’Inyonei Chinuch, praised his colleague for having “succeeded in building a network of more than 40 thriving Jewish institutions threading through the entire state of Illinois. Just yesterday, he participated in a three-hour teleconference of the executive board, where matters pertinent to the wide world of shluchim were discussed. We are stunned at his premature passing. He will be sorely missed.”
And indeed, the hole he left in the hearts of thousands continues to be acutely felt by his family, colleagues, congregants, and so many others throughout his beloved state and beyond.
Yet, his presence is felt as well, in the hearts of his family, colleagues, congregants and so many others throughout his beloved state and beyond.
His inspiration still lives on through his children and those who he has inspired.
The Sun Set
One day in the winter of 2014, as Rabbi and Mrs. Moscowitz drove together, he mentioned to her that when he passes away he wanted to be buried in Illinois, where the Rebbe had sent him as a shaliach, the place where he belonged forever.
It was shortly after he had traveled to Carbondale, Ill., to oversee the founding of the state’s newest Chabad center, and just a few weeks before Purim, a holiday that he always celebrated with contagious joy, and Mrs. Moscowitz thought nothing of the conversation.
On Saturday night, there was a chassidic leader visiting Chicago, and Rabbi Moscowitz led a delegation of Chabad rabbis to greet him. They waited outside for their meeting for a very long time. Some members of the group left. But Rabbi Moscowitz—who had a flight to catch the next morning—stayed, calm and collected. He was a chassid on a mission to bring honor to his Rebbe, and nothing else mattered.
That Tuesday, the second of Adar (March 4), Rabbi Moscowitz was on his way to the hospital for a routine surgery. On the way, he talked to Rabbi Meir Shimon about some community members--one a fresh widower and the other suffering from a prolonged illness--and asked him to reach out to them. He passed away shortly after the procedure.
The devastating news spread like wildfire and was reported in the local, national, and international press.
Writing for the Chicago Sun Times, Neil Steinberg wrote, “he was a good man, kind, patient, even dealing with weak-tea Jews like me, constantly badgering him with questions that any learned 6-year-old should know.”