One Classmate in Texas Memorializes the Life of Another Through Song One Classmate in Texas Memorializes the Life of Another Through Song

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mendel cotlarTuesday, Oct. 7, 2014 is a day that will always be remembered with sadness for the student body of the close-knit Torah Day School in Houston. On that day, they were told that seventh-grader Mendel Cotlar had suddenly lost his life from unexpected complications from GSD-1A, a metabolic disease. Only three weeks beforehand, they had sang and danced with him at his bar mitzvah celebration.

The day he heard the bitter news, 11-year-old Mendel Lazaroff sat down and tried to express his feelings through what he calls his “best companion”: an electronic piano. Surprisingly, the tune that issued forth from it, an original composition turned out upbeat and positive.
“Mendel and I used to play piano together,” explains Lazaroff, “and he lived his life with such happiness and friendliness to everyone. He was just a regular normal kid who found a way to connect with every individual. Sure, he knew and we knew he had GSD, and that he had to take his ‘cornstarch drink’ every few hours, but he never let it get in the way of living his life.”
At his bar mitzvah, Mendel Cotlar had asked the guests—many of whom were not religiously observant—to commit to start their day with the “Modeh Ani” prayer: “I offer thanks to You, living and eternal King, for You have mercifully restored my soul within me; Your faithfulness is great.”
Mendel Cotlar, smiling on his bar mitzvah day, passed away just a few weeks later from the metabolic disease GSD. (Photo: Levikfoto)

Over the months, Lazaroff’s tune continued to take shape and grew words, a combination of the Hebrew text of “Modeh Ani” and original English lyrics.

Working together with his parents—Rabbi Chaim and Chanie Lazaroff, co-directors of Chabad of Uptown in Houston—and the Cotlar family, Mendel Lazaroff had the tune professionally recorded and then went on to make a music video.

WATCH THE VIDEO HERE.

“Mendel was a very close friend of mine,” he explains. “But it wasn’t just me. He was the kind of person who was everyone’s best friend. Kids from school, non-Jewish kids from the neighborhood—everyone—and I wanted to share some of that through the song, which we named ‘Wake Up!’ and dedicated in his memory.”

Mendel Cotlar, center, and Mendel Lazaroff, to his right in the green kipah, who recently made a recording to memorialize his friend and to help fund research for a cure for GSD. (Photo: Levikfoto)
Mendel Cotlar, center, and Mendel Lazaroff, to his right in the green kipah, who recently made a recording to memorialize his friend and to help fund research for a cure for GSD. (Photo: Levikfoto)

The video begins showing Mendel Cotlar speaking at his bar mitzvah. Wearing a gold tie that compliments a face tanned by the Texas sun, he led the crowd in reciting the 12 Hebrew words of “Modeh Ani.”

Then, as the music begins, the visuals shift to Mendel Lazaroff waking up and performing negel vasser, the traditional morning hand-washing. It soon becomes retroactively clear that the ordinary morning ritual is taking place not in a bedroom, but in a pool of water.

“We want to send the message that even if you fall and find yourself underwater, you can always climb out because G‑d has faith in you,” says Lazaroff, who filmed the shot in his grandmother’s backyard swimming pool.

Emphasizing the power of a single good deed, at one point, an image of Lazaroff holding a coin

for charity fades into a newspaper with the fanciful headline showing, “Cure for GSD Discovered.”

Mendel Cotlar surrounded by his family on his bar mitzvah day. (Photo: Levikfoto)
Mendel Cotlar surrounded by his family on his bar mitzvah day. (Photo: Levikfoto)
Composing runs in the Lazaroff family. Mendel’s grandfather—Rabbi ShimonLazaroff, the regional director of Chabad Lubavitch of Texas—has introduced a number of Yiddish and English songs to Chabad culture, and advised his grandson on some aspects of the video.
The song is available for sale on iTunes and AmazonMP3, with 50 percent of the profits going towards the effort to find a cure for GSD, something that Mendel Cotlar’s brother Aryeh also grapples with.
So far, Lazaroff reports that he’s already sent a significant donation to the Children’s Fund for GSD, and many of the purchasers have left very touching comments, including this one from Mendel Cotlar’s parents, Daniel and Eta: We are touched beyond words. Your mission to honor Mendel with your music, coming from the deepest part of your neshama [soul], is a gift we, and for sure Mendel, will always cherish.”
For more information or to purchase the song, visit their web page: www.wakeup4gsd.com here.
With the help of his family, Mendel Lazaroff had the song professionally recorded and then went on to make a music video with the help of his grandmother's swimming pool.
With the help of his family, Mendel Lazaroff had the song professionally recorded and then went on to make a music video with the help of his grandmother’s swimming pool.
“We want to send the message that even if you fall and find yourself underwater, you can always climb out because G-d has faith in you,” says Lazaroff.
“We want to send the message that even if you fall and find yourself underwater, you can always climb out because G-d has faith in you,” says Lazaroff.
Mendel Lazaroff notes that 50 percent of the song's profits will go towards the effort to find a cure for GSD, something that Mendel Cotlar’s brother Aryeh also grapples with.
Mendel Lazaroff notes that 50 percent of the song’s profits will go towards the effort to find a cure for GSD, something that Mendel Cotlar’s brother Aryeh also grapples with.
{Matzav.com Newscenter}

2 COMMENTS

  1. Baruch Dayan haemes.
    May his family and friends be comforted in this tremendous loss. May he be a meilitz yosher for us all.

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