Zack Block was looking for something with meaning.
The community-minded professional, who grew up in Pittsburgh’s South Hills, was working in western Pennsylvania as a tax attorney for powerhouse companies like Deloitte and PwC. But, looking back, he realizes he felt crushed by the student debt from his law school years at the University of Pittsburgh and simply seized the opportunities in front of him.
He yearned to do something in the nonprofit sector but didn’t quite know what.
Enter Jeff Finkelstein and Brian Schreiber. The two men — heads of the Jewish Federation of Greater Pittsburgh and the Jewish Community Center of Greater Pittsburgh, respectively — counseled Block, who they knew to be a young Jewish man with promise, and a volunteer.
As it turned out, Repair the World, a Jewish organization driven by tikkun olam, was looking for someone to open its Pittsburgh office and spearhead local efforts.
“You can tell — Zack loves community and he loves being Jewish,” Finkelstein told the Chronicle. “He just seemed like a really good potential match for the Repair the World job.”
“I have had the opportunity to have many conversations with Zack throughout the years and learn about his talents and abilities within himself,” Schreiber said. “Zack brings out those skills with compassion and intelligence to strategically advance whatever project he leads.”
Block scored the Repair the World job, working locally and nationally for the organization over eight or nine years. Now, he’s onto his next big venture: working as a nonprofit strategist for Block & Associates, the Squirrel Hill law firm started by his wife, attorney Beverly Block.
The new job comes after a period with The Palm Collective, a now-national organization that promotes individual donors in the Jewish world. Block was its first employee, working alongside the company founder.
“I learned a lot in the last year — I operationalized an organization from scratch,” said Block, 45, who lives in Squirrel Hill with his wife, Beverly, and their three children, who attend Community Day School. “I’m happy to work with organizations outside of Pittsburgh but this is where my passion is — to work with community organizations from here.”
Block is also thrilled to be at Block & Associates.
“I’m not saying this because we’re married, but Bev’s probably the best attorney I’ve ever come across,” Block said. “It’s really phenomenal to watch her grow … It was her vision to do something different [with Block & Associates]. And that’s a real benefit for our clients.”
“She’s very driven and focused, and she’s really grown [the firm’s] size,” he added. “She’s doubled the staff size in five years. And she’s very focused on clients — this just sort of synchs and meshes well with us.”
Jules Mallis, who succeeded Block as executive director of Repair the World: Pittsburgh, doesn’t remember the moment they met; Block was always just there, part of the Jewish community and the nonprofit world Mallis also inhabits.
Mallis started at Repair the World, officially, in 2019 but was a volunteer and worker on projects with the group before that. Mallis recalled an early meeting where Block spoke with Repair the World staff.
“I just thought he was such a good listener and had respect for everyone at the table,” Mallis said. “I thought that was really admirable and important.”
About five or 10 years ago, Mallis was working to hone skills in the nonprofit sector, as well as the art and entertainment world, having previously served as an education program manager for BikePGH and a creative director at Pittsburgh-based BOOM Concepts. Repair the World gave Mallis a palette on which to work — and Block helped make them feel comfortable there.
“Zack is a really smart person,” Mallis said. “It’s like playing chess. He thinks in advance, [but] he also knows how to get things done.”
Marcie Solomon has worked at Block & Associates for about three years, mostly with nonprofits and in commercial litigation. Active in the Jewish community through Temple Sinai and others, Solomon has known Zack Block for years.
“He was definitely ready to step up,” she said. “First impressions? Community leader, very responsive, very kind.”
Solomon feels Block’s work as a strategist complements her work at the firm with nonprofits as an attorney.
“I’m really excited to work with Zack,” Solomon said. “I think Block & Associates is a special place. Block & Associates does really great work for really great clients. Sometimes it’s business-driven and sometimes it’s mission-driven.”
Block feels like the firm’s office on Wilkins Avenue, near Five Points Artisan Bakeshop, is a fine place to hang his hat.
“This now, to me, feels bashert,” he said. “It feels like what I’m meant to be doing.” PJC
Justin Vellucci is a freelance writer living in Pittsburgh.