By: Mordechai Lightstone - Credit lubavitch.com
Rabbi Levi Yitzchak Deitsch, Chabad-Lubavitch emissary to Tysons Corner, Virginia passed away Saturday, November 12. He was 34 years old.
Levi was the son of Rabbi Zalman Yuda, a prominent Lubavitcher chasid, Brooklyn community organizer and philanthropist, and Cyrel Deitsch.
Family and classmates knew Levi as a boisterous and personable child. Always looking to bring a smile to the faces of others, he would make a special effort to reach out to his less popular classmates. Childhood friend Nussie Sternberg recalls Levi’s “larger than life” personality as “different than anyone else” he’d ever met.
“Even if you’d met Levi only once,” Sternberg says, “he made you feel like he’s known you his entire life-- as if you were his best friend.”
Levi’s liveliness was tempered by a deep sense of responsibility to his community and his family. He especially cherished his father as an inspiring role model.
“He absolutely adored our father,” recalls his brother Rabbi Mendy Deitsch, Chabad-Lubavitch emissary to Chandler, AZ. “He wanted everyone else to see the dedication our father had to the Chasidic lifestyle and the message of the Lubavitcher Rebbe.”
Levi would often regale friends with stories of his father’s use of his business as a means to encourage Jewish identity and observance. A business meeting, Levi would remind others, would not start until after his father had offered potential partners a chance to don Tefillin. After his father’s untimely passing in 2006, Levi would continue to draw inspiration from his legacy.
Levi’s own commitment to utilizing every opportunity for the purpose of connecting with other Jews was legendary. Every week he would join his yeshivah colleagues in the practice of visiting Jewish businessmen in their places of work, encouraging them to don Tefillin and perform other mitzvot. His weekly rounds in Manhattan’s business district would build relationships that would continue for the remainder of his brief life.
In 2002, a year after Levi married Miriam Loebenstein, the couple moved to Tysons Corner, VA to serve as Chabad emissaries to the community. Far from a traditional Jewish community, Levi’s brought warmth and liveliness to his work and the people who would quickly come to love him.
Michael Medina, originally from Montreal, met the Deitschs a year after they arrived in Tysons corner and soon became a frequent Shabbat guest in their home.
“I called him my brother,” Medina recalls. “It wasn’t a typical rabbi-congregant relationship. Levi was always open, never condescending.” Medina is quick to add that the special bond he shared with Levi was one that many in the community experienced as well.
When he was diagnosed with the disease that would eventually take his life, Levi tried to conceal his sickness from the community out of fear that eople would shy away from synagogue services. Only after he was forced to miss Yom Kippur services for medical treatment did the community learn of their rabbi’s condition.
Despite an unpromising prognosis, Levi remained optimistic and dedicated to his work.
“He never asked ‘Why?’” Mendel Deitsch recalls. “What bothered him most was not his own physical suffering, but rather how it distracted him from reaching out to others.”
Despite his deteriorating health and other tragedies - Levi’s younger brother Nosson was killed in a boating accident this past May - Levi embraced life with positive energy, hoping for a cure that would allow him to go on living and sharing his love for giving.
Sternberg recalls visiting Levi last Chanukah after a particularly difficult round of treatment. The Deitschs would run Chanukah Wonderland, an interactive Chanukah experience with a functioning olive press. The event was important to Levi, and though unable to run Chanukah Wonderland, he insisted on manning the call-center. A physically draining experience, he was left exhausted after each call. Yet somehow, Sternberg notes, “he would pick up the phone each time with a renewed vigor.”
Levi’s optimism challenged his doctors to search aggressively for new treatments and ways of beating the illness.
His physician and friend, Dr. Donald S. Infeld recalls Levi as “a remarkable man: capable of fighting a devastating illness with the tenacity of a lion… To his last breath, he was absolutely certain that he would beat this illness.”
Infeld notes that Levi has left a legacy in Tysons Corner where he “created a vibrant Jewish community, a veritable oasis of Jewish learning, Jewish spirituality and Yiddishkeit. It is now our job to take the baton he passed to us and run with it.”A series of programs and initiatives have already been established in Levi's memory. Among them, a new study hall for local businessmen has been established down the block from Levi's childhood home the Crown Heights neighborhood of Brooklyn. As well, this Sunday, December 12, a memorial service and tribute to Levi's life and legacy will be held in the Jewish Community Center of Northern Virginia.
Levi is survived by his wife Miriam, his children Chaya, Mendel, Mirel and Zalman, as well as his mother Cyrel, and siblings, among them Chabad-Lubavitch emissaries across the globe.