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The End of an Era: Remembering R’ Yitzchok Block

Rabbi Shimon Posner, Shliach of the Rebbe to Rancho Mirage, CA, penned a heartfelt and personal letter to the family of Dr. Yitzchok Block, OBM, describing the tremendous positive effect he had on all who encountered him, which he kindly allowed us to share with our readers:

To My Dear Block Family amu’sh,

What a man! What a man!  I remember as a very young child hearing about Irving Block; my parents spoke of him with awe, love, pride and appreciation.  And humor.  When I was eight or nine, I went to camp in Detroit, Mendy was in the frum bunk my age (I flatly refused to join the frum bunk, to the bewilderment of the head staff) and Chaim was in a bunk two rows behind me.  One Friday night the head counselor introduced a guest speaker: Rabbi Yitzchok Block.  I was dumbstruck, Is this him!?! In the flesh!?! I knew that Yitzchok was Irving because when my mother would refer to him as Irving my father would smile and say, “Yitzchok,” and she would go “Right. Yitzchok, Yitzchok”.  It didn’t help any; forever after she called him Yitzchok and he called her Rita.

That Sunday morning after davening, I went over to him.  I was nervous but excited, I was connecting to a legend!  He in turn was very excited when I introduced myself, and forever after always had a nice thing to say when he saw me.  Later that day at suppertime, I was talking to my parents on the payphone outside the dining room, excitedly telling them who I met.  He walked by and asked, “is that you parents? then give regards.”  And I excitedly conveyed regards from Irving Block, and he smilingly leaned towards the phone’s mouthpiece and said “Yitzchok!”

So many stories, so many memories, both that I experienced and that I know from hearing.  I saw him at a chasuna, dancing away as was his style.  One of the men standing on the side was most decidedly unimpressed by the exuberance of the Hassidic dancing and the mechitzah even more so.  “Come on and dance,” Reb Yitzchok drawled.  “Sorry. I waltz.” the guy answered icily.  “Well I’ll waltz with ya!” your grandfather offered enthusiastically.  The guy was horrified.

When my mother was niftar he came to NY to be Menachem Ovel and with his light and ready laugh regaled us with memories that exuded warmth.  Never afraid of self-deprecation, he told how my mother was eight months pregnant and he came over to her, Mazeltov! I just found out!  Some of what he shared then was later recorded on Living Torah, “I’m the world’s pre-eminent expert on Aristotle!” he states with a hubris that neither fit him nor the joking tone in his voice.  “You know why, because the Lubavitcher Rebbe decided I will be, that’s why.”  He never lost his southernism.

In a letter (I believe for my parents fifty-fifth anniversary) he wrote how the Rebbe offered him mezones and “I, being a polite boy from the South, replied ‘Thank you, I had cake already’.”

Reb Mendel Futerfas is said to have been blown away how this American-born philosophy professor toiveled in the icy river waters of the Canadian winter.

At my parents’ fiftieth anniversary, both for their marriage and being with the shul, since they went on shlichus right after sheva brochos, he was the guest speaker.  He said what happens if you’re drowning and someone saves you and they are now making a big party for the man who saved you, and now they ask you to speak, and what are you supposed to say?  (and these next words still ring in my ears) and how ever so much more so if you were saved from a spiritual drowning and a spiritual death?  How do you say thank you?”

In my father’s last years (he had dementia/Alzheimer’s) your grandfather would call him.  My wife described how it was both beautiful and heartbreaking to overhear the conversation.  Chaim shared with me how much our families have in common, how they followed the same trajectory.

There was the old chazen in the shul, Reverend Abramson, who had been there since the Twenties.  He was your grandfather’s mohel, and a personality in his own right.  When he died, sometime in the early eighties I met your grandfather coming into the (now defunct?) Lefferts Street mikveh.  “End of an era,” he said to me wistfully, “end of an era.”  I feel like that now.  I will miss him.  And regret that I didn’t take that much-thought-of but little-planned trip to San Antonio to see him.

2 Comments

  • 1. no one special wrote:

    My comment may have been launched prematurely.

    My point is that his warmth, humility & Southern “charm” served as a model of what & how a Chossid could be.

    Reply
  • 2. Saundra wrote:

    What a beautiful, comforting letter. Rabbi Shimon, I was privileged to meet your father here in Nashville and attend a class with him. He was the wisest man I’ve ever met. Several answers he gave have remained with me for over twenty years. He would be so proud of what you are doing.

    Reply

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