Reb Ephraim Moscowitz
My parents were already members of Anshei Lubavitch when the legendary Rabbi Shlomo Zalman Hecht was sent to Chicago in 1942 by the previous Rebbe on the occasion of the shul’s 50th anniversary. He was only 25 years old, but his impact on Chicago Jewry was monumental. His 37 years as a Shaliach laid the groundwork for a fresh approach to stem the tide of a dying Orthodoxy.
At that time, traditional Jewish life in Chicago was on the decline as the immigrants in the early part of the 20th century, found it difficult to keep Shabbos. There was no viable Torah education other than Talmud Torah for children after Public School. Bar Mitzvah was a termination of Jewish connection and observance. Kashrus was in a state of questionable reliability. Parents reluctantly embraced the American dream as their children rejected the old traditional ways. Those who did maintain strict
standards of Shabbos, Kashrus, and Taharas Hamishpocha were a distinct minority and seemed to be fighting a losing battle.
Rabbi Hecht’s arrival stirred much interest. With a full beard, wearing a long frock coat, and speaking perfect Yiddish, people were surprised to learn that he was American born. With his charisma and regal appearance, he attracted a following of young adults into his Torah classes. With this nucleus, he instituted such innovated programs as hospital visitation for the purpose of blowing shofar for patients and lulav and esrog mivtzoyim. He initiated Maos Chitim packages for the poor of his west side
Rabbi Hecht had two radio programs, one in English and one in Yiddish, which were extremely popular. He made Chassidic gatherings and revived the practice of learning Torah all night on Shavuos and celebrating Simchas Torah far into the night. His Purim farbrengens were legendary.
Bringing joy and pride into Yiddishkeit attracted many young people.
In 1943, Rabbi Hecht arranged for me to learn in the Lubavitcher Yeshiva in Crown Heights, Brooklyn. After serving in the army of occupation in Germany, I returned to Chicago to attend college. I studied education and I met my future wife, Cynthia (Tzivia) who was also studying education. We married and both became teachers in the Chicago Public Schools. Rabbi Hecht remained our mentor and guide.
On Israchag Shavuos, 1954, Daniel was born in Mount Sinai Hospital, where I was born. I remember that at his bris, Rabbi Hecht placed a Tanya, the foundational text of Chabad teachings, under his head. At the age of 17 months, after the birth of his brother, Dovid Moshe, he regularly walked with me on Shabbos to the new location of Rabbi Hecht’s Shul in East Rogers Park, a distance of four long blocks, Daniel, even as a child, was an organizer and activity director. Whenever he had the opportunity at family get-togethers or at school he would write, direct, and participate in Chanukah plays, Purim Carnivals, organize “choirs” of holiday songs. His vibrant voice could be heard leading the others. Everything he did was with joy and great enthusiasm.
One time, when he was only eight years old, after a very difficult day with four little boys, my wife had a very rough time handling the usual bedtime routine as I worked at two jobs and didn’t come home until 8:00 PM.
She remembered her mother’s quote about her own mother. She said, that when things got tough, Grandma would “hide the matches, and take a walk around the block all alone.” So, my wife decided to “ hide the matches, and take a little walk all alone.” When she got home, the children were all in their pajamas, the table was set for supper, jarred gefilte fish, veggies, and potato chips were all set out to eat. All this was orchestrated by an eight-year-old Daniel.
At age 10, Daniel attended camp Gan Israel in Flint Michigan, which had such great influence on him. Later on, when he became activity director and organized a tremendous parents’ visitation day, it had rained heavily that morning, threatening to spoil all their hard work. I remember sitting in the car, waiting for the opening time. Daniel came to us, and said, “Don’t worry, I called the Rebbe for a Brocha, and it will be good.” He went back to his counselors, they did a Chassidic anti-rain dance and sure enough, the rain stopped, the sun came out, and the afternoon was a great success. That’s emunah!
Another great influence and mentor to the Moscowitz family was Rabbi Tzvi Shusterman, Rav of the Bnei Ruven Shul. He had been our Mesader Kiddushin in 1951. Daniel had his Bar Mitzvah at Bnei Ruven just as its new sanctuary on Devon Ave had been completed. His son Mendel, was Daniel’s dear friend. Rabbi Shusterman actually brought Daniel to 770 for his first Yechidus to the Rebbe.
Daniel went on to study in Montreal and then in Brunoy, France. After returning to the United States and receiving Smicha, he married Esther Rochel Aronow from Toronto. We then had the pleasant surprise of Rabbi Hecht choosing Daniel to be a shaliach in Chicago. Several years later, in 1979, Daniel became the head shaliach, beginning a new era of increasing Chabad outreach.
One contact leads to another. And Daniel used his numerous contacts to good advantage. He called upon family and friends to give him a springboard to people in all walks of life who could possibly help in achieving his goals. A family friend and former neighbor of ours, a successful lawyer was called upon to represent Chabad in Evanston in a serious legal challenge to its existence. Not only was Chabad successful in a series of court decisions, but all these services were rendered pro bono. From that time forward to this day, that law firm has done so for all of the Chabad's of Illinois.
There was a person whom Daniel befriended that wanted to learn Torah with him and Daniel did so with him for many years. This person had close contact with many prominent politicians, including the President of the United States. These contacts paved the way for the success of many Chabad projects such as the Succah downtown and the Menorah at Daily Plaza.
The original motivation for these personal contacts was to help bring the joy of Torah and Mitzvos into their lives. It evolved like the ripples in a pond. Seated at the Shabbos table of Daniel and Esther Rochel, you could find men and women who would be enjoying an authentic Shabbos atmosphere, a sumptuous meal, eaten by the glow of the Shabbos candles and wonderful camaraderie. No one would know how late this beautiful couple stayed up the night before in preparation to make sure that everything was delicious and welcoming for all their many guests.
The individual stories that multitudes of people can relate how Daniel and/or Esther Rochel helped them turn their lives around in a more positive direction often led to they themselves becoming “lamplighters.”
In dealing with people, Daniel’s focus was always “what can I do for you,” rather than “what can you do for me?” The aftermath of these interactions was always acts of goodness and kindness.
No task was too big or to small for him to fulfill his mission in life. Whatever he did, he did whole-heartedly and with gusto. He led by example and it is always an example that leaves the most lasting impression.
Daniel’s outreach, radiating warmth and friendship in a most pleasant way brought out the best in people. He saw the potential and capabilities in others. He went above and beyond the call of duty to help anyone in need. The 43 Chabad institutions in Illinois were not his work alone, but it was his empowerment of the individual to collectively reach their potential in the fulfillment of a common mission – to make this world a dwelling place for Hashem.
We are very proud of him and grateful to Hashem for the gift of the 59 years that we were given to be with him.
May we merit to be reunited with my dear son with the coming of Moshiach speedily in our days.