A Tribute to Rabbi Moshe Kotlarsky

Friday, 7 June, 2024 - 11:41 am

This week the Chabad movement and the Jewish world suffered a major loss, with the passing of Rabbi Moshe Kotlarsky. To read more about him

His official title was vice chairman of Merkos L’Inyonei Chinuch, the educational arm of the Chabad-Lubavitch movement. But he was much more than that. In 1970 the Rebbe identified Rabbi Kotlarsky as a person that can serve in a capacity of trustworthiness and responsibility. His remarkable people skills, his ability to assess a situation, his expertise in developing partnerships with philanthropists, and his absolute devotion to the Rebbe’s cause, put him in position to serve as the Rebbe’s liaison to communities around the world. He was the advance scout for the Chabad movement, forging connections that would enable a Chabad center to be established in a particular location. His interest in each Chabad center and the Shluchim couples who staffed them continued long after those initial years of development. When the Kinus Hashluchim (annual Shluchim conference) started in the 1980s, he was the driving force behind it. Today it has become one of the premier Jewish events of the year, drawing 6,000 attendees. Rabbi Kotlarsky is synonymous with the event.

He was a master fundraiser, who used his skills to create partnerships that would bring in hundreds of millions of dollars for Chabad institutions and initiatives. Organizations such as Chabad on Campus, Chabad Young Professionals, CTeens and CKids, Chabad on Call, Chabad in the Former Soviet Union, Chabad in the Far East, Chabad in Africa, are all the beneficiaries of his vision and organizational skills, not to mention the access to the funds needed to launch each of them. His caring for the Shluchim families led him to establish funds to help them in their personal lives, with their simchas and their times of need.  

He was a person who simply cared for others. While globetrotting on behalf of the Rebbe, he was able to maintain personal relationships with innumerable people. He truly rejoiced at the good fortune of his fellow; and was sincerely pained by their suffering or loss. Over the last 50 years he was personally involved in helping individuals with a wide variety of issues, ranging from conflict resolution to financial crisis to family health challenges. His home was wide open to guests. His son-in-law shared that he once observed a visitor to their Sukkah, one of dozens present at the table, who had no idea who his host was, ask Reb Moshe to move because he was sitting in his place!

Rabbi Kotlarsky was my father’s childhood friend. He was the person who traveled with my father to New Orleans in advance of the establishment of Chabad of Louisiana in 1975. He introduced my father to the initial supporters of Chabad, whom he had met on an earlier visit to NOLA, people like Rabbi Jeffrey Bienenfeld, Maurice Handleman, Joe Nelkin, Sam Katz, and Israel Goldberg, just to name a few. He would reconnect with them on subsequent visits to New Orleans. Amazingly, although he did the same for hundreds of communities around the world, he had a knack for remembering names and faces. He would often inquire about their wellbeing when he saw one of us in New York. He returned to New Orleans many times for our family Simchas, a bris, a bar mitzvah, a wedding. When New Orleans hosted the Southeast Regional Conference of Chabad Shluchim, he participated in the conference. He would come to every family simcha in New York without fail, even when he was battling the illness that would ultimately take his life.

Rabbi Kotlarsky facilitated the connection between the Rohr Family and Chabad at Tulane, resulting in the Rohr Family Chabad Student Center.

After Hurricane Katrina, he facilitated major grants to Chabad of Louisiana, enabling us to help the many people that we did following the storm.

Following Hurricane Ida, when the Shluchim of Louisiana were fully immersed in hurricane relief efforts, he saw to it that each of us would be assisted in dealing with the damage we confronted in our homes. I wrote him an email on behalf of our group thanking him for taking an interest in our personal lives. I was in New York a short while later and met him at a wedding. He thanked me for what he called “the appreciated, though unnecessary, note of thanks that I wrote to him.

This is just his connection with Chabad in Louisiana. The amazing thing is that there are hundreds of other communities that shared similar experiences with him.

I can declare with confidence that in the last 30 years, there is not a single individual who done more to advance the Rebbe’s vision and mission than Rabbi Moshe Kotlarsky. His passing leaves a great void. His friendship and caring will be missed. His family and colleagues have undertaken to continue his legacy of devotion to the Rebbe’s cause and the Rebbe’s Shluchim. These efforts will be headed by his son, Rabbi Mendy Kotlarsky. May Hashem grant them unimaginable success. May we soon experience the realization of that vision with the coming of Mashiach speedily.

If you would like to be a partner in the campaign to continue his work,

Shabbat Shalom
Rabbi Mendel Rivkin

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