I was stunned this morning to see a notice that Rav Daniel Moscowitz, the lead Chabad emissary in Chicago, had passed away Tuesday at the age of 59, leaving his widow, Esther and nine children.
I met Rav Moscowitz when he first returned to Chicago from Brooklyn in 1977 and was positively influenced by his charisma and authenticity.
You may remember the 70s in the US. America had recently left Viet Nam after a war that struck at the core of the country’s values. Jews on American college campuses were very much alienated from their traditions and Chabad seemed to be the only organization in America that was on the street courting young Jews. But Chabad was not in Chicago where I lived at the time. Chabad was everywhere else in the Midwest but in Chicago there was just one elderly rabbi who had titular responsibility for Lubavitch but was not very active.
So I wrote a letter to the Rebbe, Menachem Mendel Schneerson z’l, and said we needed an active Chabad in Chicago to save the college age youth of the city. That was in early 1976 and I did not get an answer until early in 1977. I received a call from some rabbi in New York who said he was coming to Chicago and wanted to talk to me about my letter to the rebbe. I reminded him that the letter was written a year ago and he responded by saying these things take time. He said he was coming to Chicago and wanted to meet me.
We met at Sabra Kosher Restaurant on Pratt Boulevard in Chicago where, of course, I ate but he only had some orange juice as he did not trust the kosher certification at the restaurant. What he wanted to tell me was that the rebbe is responding to my letter and sending a representative to Chicago to revitalize Chabad and that shaliach is a young rabbi named Daniel Moscowitz.
I was told that the existing Chabad representative would continue to be the lead person but Rabbi Moscowitz would officially be his assistant and would effectively run the Chicago operation. And so he did. Daniel came to Chicago in the spring of 1977 and built Chabad into a major force in the community. From a small office in Rogers Park 37 years ago Rabbi Moscowitz has built a network of 28 facilities in the metropolitan Chicago area included Chabad centers, schools, kollelim, and community centers to become a major force for Jewish communal life in this community of 300,000 Jews. And all of this is due to the leadership, the drive, the commitment and the inspiration of Daniel Moscowitz.
But in all this seriousness he also had a good sense of humor. I assisted him to raise money in Chicago and one of the events we ran in 1978 was a Jan Peerce concert held at Northwestern University, the location of the first Chabad House in the area. The event was sponsored by one of our major contributors and, at the end of the event, Rabbi Moscowitz presented the donor with a picture of the rebbe.
I remember asking Daniel what this person was supposed to do with the picture. He responded by saying that the picture was holy and should be placed in a prominent place in the man’s home. I shared with Rabbi Moscowitz at the time my dismay in what I saw was the veneration of a man as if he were beyond human. Of course, Rabbi Moscowitz did not agree but, when I left Chicago in 1984 to move to Israel, Chabad gave me a gift. But it was not a picture of the rebbe, rather a rendering of Melave Malke, a painting by a Lubavitch artist of a person marking the end of the Sabbath. Daniel knew better than to give me a picture of the rebbe.
There are many people who paths cross ours during our lives. Each of them makes an impression, sometimes a good one and sometimes something less. Rav Daniel Moscowitz was an inspiration to me as an example of someone totally committed to his task which he saw as God’s work and for which he was eminently qualified.
He will be sorely missed and the Chicagoland community will be the worse for his untimely departure to the next world. May his memory be for a blessing.