For the week ending 12 December 2015 / 30 Kislev 5776

Yaacov Mordechai Mogunovsky

by Rabbi Shlomo Simon
Library Library Library

Age: 24

Born: Moscow
Raised: Munich, Germany
University: Technical University of Munich, BS in Biochemistry
Currently in the Center Program

Yaacov Mordechai was born in Moscow and moved with his parents and older brother to Munich when he was six years old. His parents grew up in atheistic Soviet Russia devoid of Jewish tradition, with the exception of the knowledge that they were Jews — a fact they couldn’t forget in the virulently anti-Semitic Russian society. When they moved to Germany, a place in which it was easy to hide one’s Jewish identity, they did just that. Although they belonged to the Jewish community, they didn’t attend a synagogue nor did they observe Jewish traditions. In fact, until he was in the 11th grade in high school, no one in his class knew that Yaacov Mordechai was Jewish. (Of course, then he wasn’t known by his Hebrew name).

In Germany, in the 11th grade, students in gymnasium (academic high school) must take a class in religion. Yaacov Mordechai was the only student in his class who chose to study Judaism. His classmates were astonished to find out that he was Jewish. In fact, he was the only Jew in his school. To the credit of the German educational system, he observed no change in his classmates’ behavior towards him.

While still at this school, his older brother, who had begun attending Shabbat prayer services in Munich, suggested that they attend a student Shabbat event in Florence, Italy. While at the synagogue that Friday night, a religious Israeli tour group “happened” to be visiting the city, and invited the brothers to Shabbat dinner at their hotel. Shortly thereafter, Yaacov Mordechai started to attend Shabbat services with his brother in a synagogue in Munich, and heard weekly Torah lectures there. The process of becoming religious took a few years, but gradually the brothers started to put on tefillin daily, kept kashrut and Shabbat, and continued their learning thanks to encouragement of the rabbis and warm Jewish families of the Munich Orthodox community.

His brother, a banker, lives and works in Zurich, and has continued on his path of spiritual growth. He and his family are established members of that community, and he is well-known as a host for those who need a place to stay in Zurich on Shabbat and Yom Tov.

Yaacov Mordechai came to Ohr Somayach in April of 2015 and joined the Center Program. Among the students here, he is known for his hatmada (diligence). As a result, he has made rapid progress. “I have really improved my reading of gemara, and my Hebrew has improved to the degree that I can now pick up a sefer and read it on my own.” He is very impressed with the quality of the teaching and the achdut (unity)he feels among the students. “The rebbe’im here are fantastic and impressive talmidei chachamim (Torah scholars), and are available to me at all hours of the day. The only thing that could make the Yeshiva better is more money to improve the material situation here.” As for the future, Yaacov Mordechai says, “I want to learn as long as possible and live in a very strong Jewish community.”

There is an expression, “The apple never falls far from the tree.” Yaacov Mordechai attributes his return to the path of his forefathers to his sainted grandfather, Reb Mottel Lifshitz, zatzal, who is buried in Rostov on Don. In an incredible show of mesirat nefesh (extraordinary dedication), he managed to keep all the mitzvot in Communist Russia.

As it says in the Book of the Prophet Malachi, “V’heishiv lev avot al banim, v’lev banim al avotam”G-d will turn the hearts of the parents to their children, and the hearts of the children to their parents. This has been interpreted to mean that in the end of days the children will encourage their parents to return to the heritage of our ancestors. “Our parents weren’t so happy at first at our choice of a religious life, but now they have accepted us and even keep a kosher home and help and support us with great love and care. We are very thankful for that and we know that we can never repay their many kindnesses. I’m also very thankful to my brother who cared and cares for me a lot, and to Hakodesh Boruch Hu who is showing His goodness to me.”

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