Rabbi Irving Block, the longtime spiritual leader of the Brotherhood Synagogue who brought an ecumenical flavor to the historic Manhattan congregation, died Oct. 31 of complications from Parkinson’s disease. He was 59.
Rabbi Block, who formed the congregation in 1954 and retired 40 years later, described himself as an “Orthodox rabbi serving a Conservative congregation with mostly Reform members.” He was among the first Jewish leaders to sponsor programs for the homeless and Jews with addictions.
As part of a “covenant of brotherhood,” he invited a Presbyterian church to share his synagogue’s space for two decades, and he maintained close relations with several other Christian groups.
“He was always on the forefront of things. He was a pioneer in social action projects,” said Rabbi Daniel Alder, Rabbi Block’s successor at the Brotherhood Synagogue. “He was a genuinely religious man, a pious man. He loved people.”
In 1954 the Brotherhood Synagogue moved from West 13th Street to its current building on Gramercy Park South, the former Friends Meeting House, which according to legend was a stop on the Underground Railroad. The building was designated a city landmark in 1965, but had fallen into disrepair.
After retiring, Rabbi Block wrote his memoirs, “A Rabbi and his Dream: Building the Brotherhood Synagogue” (Ktav, 1999), and was active in interfaith activities of the New York Board of Rabbis.