A True Ohev Yisroel: The Story of Marco Figueroa
Hundreds of Jews stood in a room filled with Gemaras, Shulchan Aruchs and Chumashim. They wore kippahs and tzizis as they sang and cheered loudly. Smiles were radiant on every face, and tears rolled down some eyes. The whole room was on the same page on Sept. 14.
What was going on in the Glueck Beis Medrash on a random Wednesday morning that was causing this noise — a Hachnosas Sefer Torah? A Simchas Beis Hashoeva?
None of the above. And nobody would ever guess. Nobody who entered or thought about Yeshiva University would have ever dreamed this would happen in the Glueck Beis Medrash.
But it was happening: Marco was being honored. After spending 26 incredible years at YU, Marco was given one last hoorah before leaving YU for his new job at Einstein Medical School as a clinical research investigator, which he earned through obtaining a college degree.
It is hard to think of a person in YU who is more beloved than Marco. For almost half his life, Marco treated students, faculty and Rebbeim with the utmost warmth, friendliness and love. Everyone knew and loved Marco. He enhanced everyone's YU experience.
But how many people who knew Marco even knew his last name? Or where he grew up? After sitting and chatting with Marco for a few minutes, I realized there is more to his story to be told.
Marco Figueroa was born on Sept. 14, 1966, in Cuba and moved to the United States when he was three years old, which he said was “The greatest thing that ever happened because in Cuba there wasn't as much of an opportunity.” Marco moved with his mother and sisters to Flushing, Queens, when he got to the United States and attended John Bowne High School, a local school.
And John Bowne High School is where his love for the Jewish people began. Asked about the best part of his childhood, Marco responded that it was being with Jewish people. Marco explained that the area around John Bowne was predominantly Jewish and most of his friends were Jewish: “And who were my friends? Who did I get beat up with? Jewish guys — they were the best. They gave me an opportunity, they gave me a welcome, they gave me friendship, we loved each other. That was the best experience I ever had. A different culture that accepted me like one of their own.”
Marco started his career by working in the cafeteria in Rubin and then had a stint in the Sky Cafe for about four years. Then, Nagel Bagel was created, “and that was the greatest thing that ever happened to me — it gave me a lot of independence and a lot of reunion with the students.”
In addition to his job at YU, Marco is also a father of an 11-year-old son named Jonathan Jedidiah who loves running and has a special bond with the runners at YU.
Even though Marco will leave now, he still plans on returning. “Every time I have a day off, I plan on coming, and it will be amazing for me,” he said. “This is my second home where my brothers are. I will often be coming on my days off. This is the main place in my life.”
Asked about the best lesson he learned from his years at YU, Marco responded that he learned “to be the best person I could be and the most wholesome person I can be because it's not about me; it's about all of us.”
“I am grateful to Yeshiva University because they gave me an opportunity they didn’t have to give me,” said Marco. “This is a special school, and they handpicked people, and I am surprised they picked me. I am a much better person because I grew up with the students and rabbis here.”
“I love this school and what they have done for me, but now it is time for me to go out and see what I can do.”