An electrical fire destroyed the home of Harav Shia Horowitz, the Melitzer Rebbe of Boro Park, Thursday night, Shemini Atzeres, as the Rebbe was dancing hakafos in his shul two blocks away.
His wife, Rebbetzin Esther Horowitz, says that shortly after the lighting of the Yom Tov candles, the apartment started to feel very warm.
“I couldn’t understand why it was getting so hot,” Mrs. Horowitz recalled in a conversation with Hamodia. She was uncomfortable but not surprised; with little cross-ventilation, the rented apartment, located on a second floor, often felt warm.
Because the dining room in the small apartment also doubled as a guest bedroom for the visiting grandchildren, the family had planned to eat Yom Tov meals in the shul.
“I am going to prepare salad and we are leaving to shul,” the Rebbetzin suddenly informed her daughter-in-law, who had come from Williamsburg with her family for Yom Tov.
“I was afraid the three little grandchildren would fall asleep,” she said.
They left earlier than planned, and arrived at shul during hakafos. After hakafos had concluded and the mispallelim had left, the Rebbe and his older son, Harav Shulim Mechel, made Kiddush. The Rebbe was about to wash his hands for Hamotzi when a neighbor came rushing in with grim news.
“There is smoke and flames coming out of your window,” she said.
Harav Shulim Mechel, along with Zevi Klein, a cousin from Montreal who was joining them for the meal, quickly made their way to the scene to survey the damage.
Some ten minutes later, a visibly shaken Zevi came back alone.
“Everything is gone,” he said.
“It can’t be so bad,” replied his aunt, Rebbitzen Horowitz.
But when the rest of the family slowly made their way to the home, they realized the initial description of the destruction was accurate.
While the three other apartments in the structure suffered some smoke and water damage, the Horowitz residence was gutted.
The Rebbe and the Rebbetzin were left with only the clothing they were wearing; they have no beds or linen to sleep on; no dishes, pots, pans or appliances, no tables or chairs to sit on. The Rebbe’s collection of sefarim was badly damaged; their silver leichter had melted in the heat of the flames.
“We are very grateful to Hakadosh Baruch Hu that we got out on time,” Rebbetzin Horowitz stressed.
The Rebbe’s admirers were shocked by the news.
“This is a very simply furnished apartment, a humble apartment, but full of warmth and countless acts of chessed,” Rabbi Avraham Heschel, who has a close relationship with the Rebbe and his family, said. “There was always room for guests in that small apartment. This was a place where many broken hearts were comforted and strengthened.”
“The Rebbe and his family have always been there for others; now we have to be there for them,” he added.
“I can’t believe that fire destroyed such a center of kindness,” a mispallel of the Melitzer shul, who asked not to be named, told Hamodia.
“There was no fire insurance, and significant sums must be raised to help replace what was destroyed,” he said. “As much as we would like to, our kehillah lacks the resources to do so. We therefore must turn to the wider community to join this effort.”
Tax-deductible contributions can be made out to:
Congregation Bais Yechiel Melitz (C.B.Y.M), and mailed to:
1156 52nd St., Brooklyn, NY 11219.
Those who wish to donate via credit card should call 845-419-1659.