On Thursday evening, March 15, an electrical fire broke out in the three-story dormitory building of the Viznitzer Yeshivah in Thompson, N.Y. It was just fifteen minutes after the last of the buses taking the bachurim to the shivah of the Viznitz family in Monsey for nichum aveilim had pulled out of the parking lot. B’siyatta diShmaya, a catastrophe was that narrowly averted. “No one wants to think about what would have happened if the fire had broken out in middle of the night,” one mother says.
The dormitory building burned to the ground. Getting the devastating news while they were at the shivah house, the talmidim of the yeshivah were told that they were to make their way to their own homes. Three hundred shell-shocked boys returned home with nothing but the clothes they were wearing. But many of the parents couldn’t possibly afford to replace the costly coats, bekeshes, shoes and hats that had gone up in smoke. Mr. Klein,* father of one of the bachurim, couldn’t sleep that night; he felt had to do something. So he sent an email to forty of his clients and colleagues:
“My 17-year-old son’s yeshivah (school) burned down and 300 students are left with nothing besides the clothes they’re wearing. Many of them can’t afford to replace their wardrobes. Any contribution you can send will be greatly appreciated.”
He provided a link to a local paper, The Times Herald Record: Firefighters Battle Yeshiva Blaze, Students Away at Funeral TOWN OF THOMPSON — Firefighters battled a monster five-alarm blaze at a Yeshiva complex in the Town of Thompson Thursday night while students were safely downstate paying respects after the death of a Hasidic leader.
Crews fought the fire at 168 Gibber Road, the former Gibber Hotel, for several hours as it made its way through the large three-story building. The fire appears to have started in the upper stories of the former hotel and spread quickly through dorm rooms now used as a religious school, Monticello Fire Chief Marc Friedland said.
Within two hours, Mr. Klein received pledges adding up to over $5000. Mr. Klein was not the only one who helped. When local store owners heard about the fire, they stepped right up. One store in Monsey postponed its closing time and invited the boys in. Each boy was given two sets of underwear and pyjamas, free of charge. Mr. Stern,* is a Vizhnitzer chassid who lives in Monsey.
Although at the time he had neither sons nor nephews in the yeshivah, he also wanted to help. So he sent a check for $10,000 to a local store to subsidize the purchase of bekeshes, bringing the price down to $40 for the yeshivah boys.
But the boys still needed hats, shoes, jackets and coats. Other storekeepers gave the boys significant discounts on these items. All in all, the response was overwhelming.
“It was some learning experience for my son,” says Mr. Klein today. “It was the Pesach shopping season, and the boys realized that the stores absorbed substantial losses, since the clothing could have been sold at full price. They have learned a “daf” in practical Torah: Ahavas Yisrael.”
Adapted from Ami Magazine, with permission.
*Names changed to protect privacy