CHABAD communities in Sydney, New York and Los Angeles are simultaneously in mourning, as tributes continue to flow in for influential Rabbi Mendel Itkin, who died from ill health in Sydney on December 11, aged 61.
Addressing a well-attended funeral service at the Sydney Chevra Kadisha on Monday, Nefesh Synagogue’s Rabbi Aron Moss described Rabbi Itkin as a “chossid to his core”, whose kindness, empathy and charisma “touched so many lives” and whose love of learning was “legendary”.
“Whenever you saw him, he had a question in learning, or would share an idea or a vort – and the morning kollel gave him the greatest pleasure,” Rabbi Moss said.
“Somehow Mendel was everywhere – a 6.15 minyan at Yeshiva, community kollel at Tzemach Tzedek, blowing a shofar at Nefesh, teaching at Kesser Torah and Cheder, along with [his wife] Aviva’s conversion students.
“Nobody ever forgot him once you met him … you couldn’t help loving him.”
The son of respected chassid Rabbi Meir Itkin and his wife Sima, Mendel Itkin was born on the second day of Rosh Hashanah in 1956 and grew up in Crown Heights, Brooklyn in a house next door to Chabad headquarters.
In 1977, he was sent to Los Angeles to help found the yeshivah Ohr Elchonon.
“His years in LA were fruitful and his impact on that community is still strongly felt – there is a daily shiur at 6am in LA that Mendel started with a friend 16 years ago – it goes on to this day,” Rabbi Moss said.
He added that one of the many homeless people Rabbi Itkin helped in LA through his many fundraising drives was one Bob Dylan.
Rabbi Moss said Aviva gave Rabbi Itkin the soul companionship he yearned for, and he was warmly embraced by his in-laws, the Amzalak family, who adored him and brought him into the Sydney Jewish community, where he continued his work.
“He was the same Mendel in New York, LA or Sydney,” Rabbi Moss said.
“His impact on this community is in a small way reflected by the outpouring of support that we have seen in the last few weeks.
“The family truly appreciates all of it, and says thank you.
“Mendel was such a devoted husband, a loving father, grandfather, brother and brother-in-law.
“We will continue to honour you, Mendel, by doing what you did best – committing to attending minyan, increasing in learning Torah, making peace with each other, reaching out in love and, above all, thinking good [positively].”