By: Sammy Intrator  | 

YU Students, Staff Volunteer To Help Bronx Neighbors After Fire Took 17 Lives and Displaced Over 100

YU students and staff volunteered last week to assist survivors of  Jan. 9’s devastating fire in a Bronx apartment complex that took the lives of 17 — nine adults and eight children — and left over 100 displaced residents in need of food, water, shelter and basic supplies. 

The morning after on Monday, Jan. 10, Yeshiva Student Union President Elazar Abrahams (YC ‘22), Assistant Director of Student Life Rabbi Herschel Hartz and Director of Government Relations Jon Greenfield reached out to the local councilman's office and other local volunteer organizations in the Bronx to coordinate opportunities for YU students to assist in relief efforts. These calls led to students stepping in that Monday and Wednesday.

Later that morning, Abrahams emailed the student body calling on those around campus, as school is on winter break, to join in the relief efforts. “Like our values instruct us to, we are trying to corral forces to go to the site and potentially physically volunteer, as the site is close to the Wilf Campus,” he wrote in the email. “We’ve been in touch with our head of Government Relations, but before we reach out to local people on the ground to offer help, we need some people that are interested and available.”

The first day, given the short notice,  a small delegation of three YU students and Rabbi Hartz brought 50 pounds of food, 200 water bottles, and sweatshirts to Councilman Oswald Feliz’s office, according to Abrahams. Students then distributed 1,000 water bottles at three different hotels housing displaced victims from the fire.

“Even though we started off uncoordinated and had some difficulty about how to assist, we did the best we could under the circumstances and we were still able to accomplish a lot,” said Levi Wolf (SSSB ‘22), one of the three students who volunteered with Rabbi Hartz on Monday.

Students’ help didn’t stop there. On Wednesday, Jan. 12, about 15 students from YU’s undergraduate schools and its  Wurzweiler School of Social Work organized boxes of clothing to divide among the survivors of the deadly fire. They also sent toiletries and helped organize food for victims with the help of local Councilman Oswald Feliz. Kimberly Moore, the new director of Wurzweiler’s Care Café, which centers around community outreach, worked with Rabbi Hartz and Greenfield to coordinate that day’s work. 

Prof. William Sutton, director of Ferkauf Graduate School of Psychology’s Parnes Clinic, offered the clinic’s services for mental health and crisis intervention support, though the Department of Health already had a full-time mental health team on site.

“It is essential at Yeshiva University for us to practice what we preach,” said Rabbi Hartz. “When our students saw the tremendous destruction Sunday, many were asking what we could do.  The next day, we had corralled many forces, internally at Yeshiva and externally with our partners in the general community, to see how we could help the best … It was a true community effort.”

“It was inspiring to see how we were able to coordinate this even over winter break,” said Abrahams about the quick and productive response by students “YU is filled with the best people, and I'm proud that my fellow students stepped up when tragedy struck right next door. Club events and all that are important, but we have the opportunity to effect real change if we care to, and this initiative was a reminder of that.”  The blaze started at around 11 a.m. on Jan. 9 in the East 181st St. apartment complex. NBC News reported that New York City Fire Commissioner Dan Nigro identified the cause to be a malfunctioning electrical space heater.

Photo Caption: About 15 YU students organized boxes of clothing for survivors of the Jan. 9 blaze.

Photo Credit: Yeshiva University