Many famous people are buried in Forest Park’s cemeteries. On March 5, one more was added. Most Forest Park residents have never heard of Rabbi Daniel Muscowitz, but within his own Jewish movement known as Chabad-Lubavitch, he was a beloved and respected leader.
Tom Bornstein, a Grave Care Specialist at Waldheim Cemetery said there was a huge crowd at his funeral. He said that the fact that he had a synagogue funeral was an indication of his stature in the Jewish community. “His funeral was held at Bnai Reuven Synagogue in Rogers Park, a synagogue at the heart of the Chabad community in Illinois,” Bornstein explained. “Only revered religious leadership are given a synagogue funeral. Usually the very orthodox side of the Jewish community have simple graveside services.”
Muscowitz died at age 59 from complications after surgery.
Victor Mirelmann, Rabbi Emeritus at West Suburban Temple Har Zion, got to know the Chabad rebbe fairly well on a 2004 Rabbinic mission from Chicago to Poland and Israel. “He was a wonderful individual,” Mirelmann recalled, “full of life and good works.”
Yitzchok Bergstein, himself a Chabad-Lubavitch rabbi, knew Rabbi Miscowitz better than most, meeting with him a couple times a week for years. He said that Chabad’s mission in the U.S. is to address the reality that many Jews had become so assimilated to American culture that they had lost their identity as Jews. “The Jewish community,” he said, “had become comfortable with the American way of life.”
“The only way to have Judaism for the next generation,” he continued, “is education. The way for young people to appreciate the tradition is to have positive experiences in a Jewish educational system. The mission of Chabad is to bring Judaism to Jews at every level of observance at whatever point they are ready for.”
Bergstein emphasized that he is not in competition with either West Suburban Temple Har Zion or the Oak Park Temple. “People come here who are members of both temples,” he explained, “who are looking for a little more Judaism, a little more Yiddishkeit.”
Rabbi Miscowitz held a position in the Chabad movement similar to the office of bishop in some Christian traditions. He was the director of all of the Chabad centers in Illinois which grew to forty in twenty cities until he died.
Rabbi Bergstein remembers him not as a boss but as a friend, a mentor and a member of his family. “He was someone I could bounce ideas off of, who could help me see the bigger picture,” he said. “I could ask him questions and not feel belittled. About a dozen of us would meet with him every Wednesday morning to study Torah, and we’d often see him scrambling eggs for our breakfast.”
Bergstein said that his mentor seemed to love every person with whom he came in contact. He said that Rabbi Muscowitz had met a woman in her nineties who came every Friday to the Chabad Center in Hyde Park for the Shabbat dinner served there, and he would call her every Friday to wish her Shabbat shalom.
Rabbi Bergstein marveled at how his director was able to make seventy to eighty staff members from the forty centers around Illinois, each of whom had different ideas and personalities, feel like a family.
To illustrate Rabbi Mucowitz’s love for people, Bergstein told a story about a rabbi named Menachim Schneerson. “Rabbi Schneerson would stand for hours blessing people who lined up on Sundays just to have a moment with him,” he said.
“When an older lady finally got to him after standing for an hour, she asked him why he didn’t get tired, to which he replied ‘when you are counting diamonds you don’t get tired.’ In Rabbi Muscowitz’s eyes,” said Bergstein, “every person was a diamond.”