It’s late Friday afternoon. 7:30, to be exact.
It’s the usual Erev Shabbos panic. Still need to put the cholent on, fold one more load of towels, and half a dozen other last minute erev shabbos necessities.
And then the phone rings.
“Mom, it’s for you. The lady says it’s an emergency.”
Not terribly unusual for me, since I deal with people in crisis in the community. Little did I dream the emergency was mine.
“Hi, I live down the block from your school. There’s been a fire. The firemen had to break into your building. I think there’s some damage. I took the number of some guy that says he can board up the building. Give him a call. Have a good Shabbos.”
Step one: Stand for a moment in utter disbelief. Really? Right in the middle of Regent exams, end of year meetings, student interviews? 48 hours before graduation? It seemed unreal.
Step two: Call the number I was given and see what this guy can do for us. At this late hour, I don’t have time to run down to school and see what the damage is or remove items that could be further damaged or stolen. The guy says he can board up the building and bill our insurance. I am skeptical. And panicked.
Step 3: Call Mrs. Nechama Chanin, Administrator of Bnos Chomesh. Surely she will know what to do. She always does.
Fortunately, Mrs. Chanin is ready for Shabbos because she had planned to light candles 10 minutes earlier this week in the merit of the three bochurim in Eretz Yisroel. As the first siren blares, she jumps into her car and drives to school. As she exits her car in front of 262 Kingston Avenue, the smell of smoke hits her like a strong wave. What she sees there is quite jolting. Broken padlock to the gate, broken front door, lots of smoke…it’s hard to breathe. The fire was electrical in nature and had erupted between the wall of the school building and the wall of the adjacent property. As she enters the building, 3 men approach her offering their services to board up the building. “You have to be very careful who you choose,” one of them warns her ominously. She is very careful. She chooses to deal with it herself.
Thinking quickly, Mrs. Chanin dashes to the store next door and buys a new padlock. With just minutes to licht bentchen, she brings in furniture that the firefighters had removed from the building and goes to lock up. A kind bystander helps her pull down the now damaged gate and she puts on the new padlock. Safe. For now.
By the time the second siren sounds, Mrs. Chanin has returned home, still in time to light candles 5 minutes early. As she bentches licht with a tefillah for the safe return of the 3 bochurim, she adds a plea that the financial difficulties our school has struggled with should be relieved, and not exacerbated by this new hardship. She also thanks the Aibershter that this unexpected turn of events took place during non-school hours. No students or teachers were hurt or traumatized, Baruch Hashem.
As soon as Shabbos is out, we head over to the building to assess the damage in a less hurried fashion. Walking through the wreckage, Mrs. Chanin notices something she had not seen on Erev Shabbos: The back door had also been forced open and it was left so over the entire Shabbos! As for the rest, walls are broken, furniture is damaged, books and papers strewn about in puddles on the floor, equipment mangled and three doors are broken. Just to be on the safe side, we remove some portable equipment and other valuables from the building.
Moving to a new location for the coming school year has been a fervent hope and dream; now it is a necessity. And now we will incur the additional expense of replacing damaged furniture and equipment as well.
For the moment, we will have to lay our concerns to rest, and concentrate on today’s graduation. It is a culmination of our students’ hard work and a celebration of their successes. Our pride and nachas will surely overtake our distress. But tomorrow we will have to face the reality of dealing with the loss and damage.
We would like to thank Rivky Yankelewich for alerting us to the fire. We are so grateful that she took the time a half hour before Shabbos to get down some information and call to help out.
We have much to be thankful for in the way that this fire happened. Now we must trust that the Aibershter gave us this challenge knowing that we would rise above it in a manner of “yerida l’tzorech aliya.” We are hoping that the adage נאך א פייער ווערט מען רייך-After a fire comes wealth–will be fulfilled so our school can continue to grow.
We are now looking for a new location, and funding to help replace lost equipment. If you or anyone you know can help, please contact us.
To donate to the Bnos Chomesh Emergency Fund click here: click here