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Rabbi Moshe Kotlarsky, leading figure of Chabad movement, dies at 74

Even as he faced severe health challenges in recent years, he continued working.

Rabbi Moshe Kotlarsky. Credit: Chabad.org.
Rabbi Moshe Kotlarsky. Credit: Chabad.org.

Rabbi Moshe Kotlarsky, a key figure in the Chabad-Lubavitch movement and a pioneer of Jewish life around the world, died on June 4. He was 74 years old, just days shy of his 75th birthday.

As vice chairman of Merkos L’Inyonei Chinuch (the educational arm of the Chabad-Lubavitch movement), he played a crucial role in the growth of the Chabad network worldwide. Entrusted by the Lubavitcher Rebbe—Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson—Kotlarsky oversaw the establishment of thousands of Jewish centers, guiding shluchim (or “emissaries”) through the challenges of setting them up in diverse and often remote regions.

He was born in 1949 in Brooklyn, N.Y., to Rabbi Hershel and Golda Kotlarsky. His father, a Holocaust survivor, was instrumental in establishing the Chabad communities in Montreal and New York.

Kotlarsky married Rivka Kazen, the daughter of one of the Rebbe’s first emissaries. The couple settled in the Crown Heights neighborhood of Brooklyn, raising nine children. Despite their willingness to start a Chabad House, the Rebbe appointed Kotlarsky to work for Merkos L’Inyonei Chinuch Chabad Headquarters in New York City, dedicating his life to Jewish education and outreach.

In 1968, he began traveling extensively to outlying Jewish communities, identifying needs and planning new Chabad centers. His efforts revived Jewish infrastructure worldwide, including in the former Soviet Union, the Far East and the Caribbean. He enlisted the support of prominent philanthropists such as Sami Rohr, his son George and Pamela Rohr; Lev and Olga Leviev; Moise Safra; Moris and Lillian Tabacinic; Gennadiy Bogolyubov; David Slager; and others.

Kotlarsky chaired the International Kinus Hashluchim, the annual fall convention of Chabad emissaries that showcases the movement’s growth. It has been described as the largest sit-down dinner in New York City’s history. The rabbi’s “roll call” of emissaries at the gala banquet highlighted the impact of the thousands of centers worldwide.

Rabbi Moshe Kotlarsky With Son Rabbi Mendy Kotlarsky
Rabbi Moshe Kotlarsky, vice chairman of Merkos L’Inyonei Chinuch (the educational arm of the Chabad-Lubavitch movement) with his son, Rabbi Mendy Kotlarsky, executive director of Merkos 302 at Chabad World Headquarters, at the annual photograph of Chabad emissaries in Brooklyn, N.Y. Credit: Chabad.org.

While dealing with big-picture challenges and relationships with world leaders, Kotlarsky was also a personal friend and mentor to thousands around the globe. Known for his readiness to assist anyone in need at all hours of the night and day, the rabbi provided emergency financial and medical assistance to countless individuals from all walks of life.

Even as he faced severe health challenges in recent years, Kotlarsky continued his work. At the Shluchim Conference of 2021, he delivered a powerful speech pledging to undertake numerous transformative initiatives to impact Jewish life globally. To that end, in the past few years, he oversaw the establishment of new Chabad centers, Jewish libraries, mikvahs, Jewish teen centers and Hebrew schools.

The funeral procession took place on June 5 in Brooklyn, attended by thousands.

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