In a world where large families are not unheard of, it’s not uncommon for a student at a Chabad-Lubavitch run yeshiva to find a cousin or two among his peers. But at the Tomchei Temimim post-high school rabbinical school in Kiryat Gat, Israel, a full 10 percent of the student body and a teacher recently learned they were all related.

Yitzchok Raskin’s discovery made news in Israel when research into his family tree revealed that of the 200 students at his institution, 20 were descended from Rabbi Chaim Ben-Zion Raskin, a devout Lubavitcher Chasid who was born in 1864 in Belarus. A loyal follower of the Fifth Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Sholom Ber Schneersohn, and his son, the Sixth Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak Schneersohn, Raskin traced his lineage to followers of the First Chabad Rebbe, Rabbi Schneur Zalman of Liadi.

The Sixth Rebbe wrote of Raskin in the highest regard.

“There’s a Jew who lives in Moscow and wakes up at 4:00 in the morning to study Torah,” the Sixth Rebbe recorded in a letter. “But first he recites the Psalms and sheds tears like flowing water. Why is he crying? He is beseech the Almighty to guide his children and grandchildren towards the correct path.”

Raskin, of course, had much to be concerned about the future of his family in a land where Communism was taking root and where Jewish youth were lost to the perils of secularism. But 74 years after his passing, hundreds of his descendants all over the world learn in yeshivas and serve as Chabad-Lubavitch emissaries.

“Rabbi Raskin had the z’chut, privilege that his progeny not only remained Jewish, but continued as followers of Chabad teachings,” stated Rabbi Naftoli Marinovsky, a great-grandson who teaches at the Tomchei Temimim institution in Kiryat Gat.

Raised in Kfar Chabad near Tel Aviv, Marinovsky said that given the decades of Soviet assimilation, it was “highly unusual” for so many descendants to have remained steadfast in their Judaism.

“My late mother was his granddaughter,” added Marinovsky. “We came from Russia to Israel when I was one year old, in 1966. My son is among the 20 students [of the Raskin line] at the yeshiva.”

Student Mendel Mondshine, 17, grew up in Moscow. One of 11 children, he said that his American-born parents had moved to Russia to serve the community as Chabad-Lubavitch emissaries. He hadn’t realized that so many of his peers were cousins, and he was “amazed” when he found out.

Rabbi Chaim Ben-Zion Raskin
Rabbi Chaim Ben-Zion Raskin

“We always knew we were a pretty big family,” he said. “I used to hear stories about [Rabbi Chaim Benzion Raskin], but now it’s more real.”

Hillel Sperlin, 18, meanwhile, hails from Montreal.

“My mother is a Raskin from Morocco,” he said, explaining that her family lived in North Africa because the Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem M. Schneerson, of righteous memory, sent Rabbi Yehuda Leib Raskin there to serve the thousands of Moroccan Jews.

“I knew about some of the cousins, but not all of them,” said Sperlin. “I didn’t know they were in yeshiva with me. It’s beautiful and really cool.

“I knew that Rabbi Chaim Benzion had a blessing from the Sixth Rebbe that all of his children would remain religious,” continued Sperlin. “I heard that story and I was aware there were relatives all over the world with Raskin blood in them.

“There were 20 of us in the study hall getting our picture taken, with everyone watching us,” he added. “I was very proud.”