Reb Mottel Lifshitz, affectionately known as “Reb Mottel the Shoichet,” who survived two world wars, the Russian gulag, and Communist rule, passed away on Thursday, Adar II 4, 5774.
He was 97.
Born August 29, 1916 (Av 30, 5676) in Kiev, Reb Mottel studied with the older Lubavitcher Chassidim in the ‘underground Cheder network’ founded by the Sixth Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Joseph Isaac Schneerson across Soviet Russia.
At the age of 23, only three days after his engagement to a young Jewish girl, he was imprisoned by the KGB and sentenced to slave labor for several “crimes” including “holding a strong letter contact with an agent of the Polish secret police named [Rabbi] Schneerson” and for “gathering youth to study the banned talks and discourses of [Rabbi] Schneerson”.
He was sent to the frozen Siberian and Kolyma Mountains, where he labored for 7 years until the end of WWII. Upon returning to Kiev he learned that his entire family perished in Babi-Yar by the Nazi Holocaust and only he survived due to his imprisonment.
Reb Mottel later married, built a family and continued to study Torah while serving in multiple Jewish communities as their teacher, Mohel, Shochet (ritual slaughterer) and Rabbi only to skip to the next town upon being detected by the local authorities.
Eventually, Reb Mohel became the sole Shochet and Mohel of Moscow for over 25 years until being replaced in the early 90’s by others when the “Iron Curtain” came down. Reb Mottel is known by his beloved nickname “Mottel der Shoichet”.
Reb Mottel officiated at the marriage of Yuli and Tanya Edelstein in 1984, in a quiet ceremony outside of Moscow. “It was not a legal marriage, but it was a very moving event and it brought us one step closer to Judaism,” recounts Edelstein. Soon after his wedding, Edelstein was sent to a labor camp until 1987 when he finally immigrated to Israel.
Today, the 51-year old refusenik-turned-MK credits Reb Mottel with giving him the will to fight. “Even in those days he wasn’t young and he didn’t look like a hero, but everyone knew that neither an earthquake nor the KGB could stop him from being there for us. We knew we could totally rely on him for questions, help, or procedures.”
Reb Mottel recorded his memories in the book “Memoirs of the Gulag,” written in Yiddish, which sold out soon after it was published.
This book tells the tale of a young Jew, whose only wish in his twenties was to be buried as a Jew, and that despite all odds, eventually survived the Gulags and, with G-d’s help, merited to see his great-grandchildren following in his path, practicing the Jewish traditions he so bitterly fought to uphold.
In recent years he was living in Crown Heights, studying and writing.
He is survived by his children, Sara Haskelevich – Crown Heights, Zalman Lifshitz – Monsey, NY and Shaindel Weiner – Far Rockaway.
The levaya will take place today, Thursday, at Shomrei Hadas at 1:00 pm and passing by 770 at 2:00 pm.
Shiva will be at 658 Montgomery Street 1k
Minyan times till Thursday morning.
Nichum aveilim via phone 718 774 7912
Baruch Dayan Haemes.
Video: Reb Mottel singing in a video with Reb Getche and others in a communist era video in Moscow, Russia.