On Friday morning, December 28, my husband rushed home from shul and exclaimed, “There’s a fire going on in front of Ahavas Yisroel. You should come see what’s happening.”
The beginning of this story is that there was a fire in front of Congregation Aderes Eliyahu (Rabbi Teitz’s shul) on 72nd Drive and 147th Street at around 7:30 a.m. One shul member shared that the shul was in the middle of davening Sh’moneh Esrei when the lights flickered, and firefighters and Con Edison employees came into the shul and told everyone it would be a good idea to evacuate: There was an underground fire in a manhole in the street outside the shul.
Two hours later, just after the children who are part of the preschool at Congregation Ahavas Yisrael had arrived, another electrical fire erupted underground in the street in front of Congregation Ahavas Yisrael. According to the Fire Department, there was a short in a transformer, which caused the fires.
Rabbi Herschel Welcher, rav of Congregation Ahavas Yisrael, and shul members involved with taking care of the shul, were discussing whether they should remove the sifrei Torah, but representatives of the Fire Department assured them that there was no threat to the building.
The FDNY officers also told the preschool director, Mrs. Sarah Simanowitz, that it was safe for the children to stay. However, shortly after that, the power went off in the shul and Mrs. Simanowitz decided to call parents to take the children home. While waiting for the parents to arrive, they led the children into the shul and they held the weekly Shabbos party there. The children were kept busy and happy and they never experienced any worry or fear. The firefighters came back and told Mrs. Simanowitz that she should evacuate because of the possibility of carbon monoxide fumes. Due to her quick thinking, she had already called all the parents to come pick up their children.
Mr. Goldsmith, who lives next door to Congregation Ahavas Yisrael, said he got an alert on his app, called Citizen. He heard popping noises like firecrackers, only louder. FDNY and Con Edison were already on the scene. Mr. Goldsmith was watching from his house as the police cordoned off the street. The flames were getting larger, and he said, “I was afraid it could get worse. The lights were flickering. I was saying t’hilim in my dining room. I was wondering if I should leave.” He continued preparing food for Shabbos. He shared, “It was an exercise in staying calm.”
FDNY and Con Edison were hoping the flames would extinguish themselves, but since they didn’t, they brought in a special fire truck with a chemical called “fire-and-ice,” which is used for electrical fires. The chemicals are non-toxic so they don’t hurt the environment, but a big clean-up is necessary after using them.
Mr. Alan Hochster described a thumping and bumping noise in his house, which is in the middle of the block of 73rd Avenue, between Main Street and 147th Street. His house and 12 others on the block lost power. He pointed out how special our community is, because eight different people offered his family a place for Shabbos, knowing they had no power.
Mr. Hochster picked up LED lanterns at The Home Depot, which Ahavas Yisrael used until the power was restored.
Power was restored around 2:30 p.m. on Shabbos afternoon. “Con Edison did a fantastic job working through the night,” Mr. Goldsmith stated.
He shared that Congregation Ahavas Yisrael did not miss a minyan and, baruch Hashem, no one was hurt. It was nice to see everyone working together until everything was completely restored.
The community thanks the FDNY and Con Edison for their dedication and help, and Hashem for protecting us. May we all stay safe.
By Susie Garber