Tuesday, 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.
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.
“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.”
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.”