It was standing room only last Wednesday evening as family, students, admirers, and friends gathered in Crown Heights to remember Dr. Yitzchok Block, a true Chossid, pioneering campus Shliach, leading philosopher and gifted speaker.
The evening, held at Lubavitch Yeshiva, began with a Hascholas Sefer Torah L’iluy Nishmas Dr. Block and his wife Laya. Upon completion, the Torah will reside in the Chabad House founded by Dr. and Mrs. Block at Western University in London, Ontario, currently led by Rabbi Mordechai and Nechamie Silberberg.
A Siyum Mishnayos followed, after which the gathering was treated to a video of Dr. Block sharing one of many remarkable vignettes from his storied relationship with the Rebbe.
This was followed by a video message by Lord Rabbi Jonathan Sacks, former Chief Rabbi of England, who was introduced to the Rebbe and Chassidus by Dr. Block and who remained a life long admirer of this Chossid.
Rabbi Manis Friedman and Rabbi Shmuel Lew, Shluchim and renowned lecturers, shared memories and anecdotes from the many years they learned from and interacted with Dr. Block. They talked about his skillful interactions with the students at Pegisha Farbrengens and how he led them along journeys of thought using fascinating metaphor, disarming anecdote and humorous wit. In the words of Rabbi Friedman, he taught a generation of Shluchim how to speak in English, but teach Chassidus.
They talked about his absolute Bitul to the Rebbe, his legendary diligence in learning Chassidus and his unbridled joy in life. They described his uncanny ability to bring authenticity to every facet of life. From competitive baseball to all-night farbrengens, from deep Chassidus to ancient philosophy, from prestigious academic conferences to dancing on tables in the Sukkah, Dr. Block touched and transformed lives wherever he went.
He barely slept on Friday nights, to him it was a night for Chassidus and kabbalah. He never davened without learning Chassidus first and without making a lechaim afterwards. As he walked the streets, he would hum a Chassidic melody. As he met total strangers, he would greet them with a cheerful smile. As he saw people in need, no matter who, when, or where, he invited them to his home for a meal and a place to sleep. When he saw an opportunity, he invited people to learn with him, and before long, brought them to New York to see the Rebbe. To him, the joy and the seriousness of life were two sides of the same coin.
Colleagues and students shared memories of his devotion to every Jew, in every context, on every occasion. They described his lively and enlightening Shabbos meals that inspired many to Teshuvah and to establish homes in similar spirit.
It was a night of memory, and a night of inspiration. The life of a true chossid was laid bare before us, so that we can learn from him and aspire to be like him.
At the close of the event, memorial booklets were distributed with anecdotes and memories, from people all over the world, about the gentle giant, the joyous genius, the humble chossid, the dancing academic, and devoted Shliach that we knew as Dr. Yitzchok Block.
Yehi Zichro Boruch.