As temperatures plunged across the Midwest, the Jewish community of Chicago was faced with their own unique challenges as they lived through the coldest recorded days in the city’s history. Although all residents of the Windy City had to endure the bone-chilling Arctic blast, the observant community faced their own distinctive difficulties as they waited for the cold to give way to warmer weather.
Temperatures in Chicago dipped to -25° Fahrenheit with a wind chill factor of -50°, making it hazardous to spend even a short period of time outdoors. Walking even a short distance was dangerous, but the men, who wanted to daven with a minyan, persevered as they drove to and from their local shuls.
The stores in Chicago, including malls, restaurants, libraries, government offices and service-related industries were closed throughout the city. Although most of the schools did not open, Torah learning did not take a break as Yeshiva Tiferes Tzvi had voluntary classes during a shortened school day. Rabbi Ariel Puchovitz, who teaches second grade at Tiferes Tzvi, told Hamodia that nine of his seventeen talmidim were in class, and one student told him, “Rebbi, it was my choice to come this morning, and I decided that I wanted to be here in class.”
“Our day was more or less regular,” Rabbi Puchovitz said. “We davened, learned some pesukim and really had a productive day. The boys were served hot cocoa, marshmallows and warm cookies, which was a treat for them, but otherwise they really were here to learn.”
Although they anticipated the freezing weather, the turnout, according to Rabbi Shmuel Tenenbaum, Tiferes Tzvi’s mashgiach, was beyond their wildest expectations. “Rabbi Nosson Moller, our Menahel, sent out an email to the parents yesterday announcing that although attendance was not mandatory, the yeshivah would be open from grades one through eight as a service to those who wished to come. Parents could drop off their children at the front door, and a staff member would escort them indoors. We were taken by surprise when out of 460 talmidim, over 300 showed up. That’s a 70% attendance rate on the coldest recorded day in Chicago’s history!”
Rabbi Tenenbaum’s son Yechiel related that when he heard that the yeshivah would be open, he initially felt that it was not fair. “All the other schools were closed, and I thought it would be nice to stay home. I asked my father, ‘Why do I have to go? It’s dangerous outside!’ But the day went by so fast, and we did not feel the cold from outdoors, since we were warmed by the warmth of Torah we were learning indoors.”
When Rabbi Nosson Muller, the Menahel of Yeshiva Tiferes Tzvi, addressed grades six through eight after Shacharis, he related that the Viener Rav often had a passuk pop into his head in the morning, and somehow it connected with what transpired during the day, “This morning,” said Rabbi Muller, “when I woke up and was staring at the ceiling, I suddenly thought of the passuk which says, ‘Ashreinu mah tov chelkeinu…’. Yesterday, we expected perhaps twenty-five boys to show up. Even twenty-five boys is worth twenty-five million dollars. But when we saw over three hundred boys this morning, we felt that the malachim were dancing as they greeted the talmidim.”
The children who were home during the day were limited in what they could do to occupy themselves. “It was so cold and dangerous to be outdoors that they could not have their friends who lived a block away come over,” said Esty, a mother of several school-age children. “Only those who lived next door were able to come by. There was no way for them to go to shopping or to any entertainment venue since the entire city was closed. My child had a dentist appointment, but that, too, was cancelled. So, we baked challos and actually began our Pesach cleaning today.”
Chaveirim of Chicago reported that they answered several calls for help throughout the day. “We only answered cases which were true emergencies,” said Yale Ray, a Chaveirim volunteer. “In one case, a woman hit a pothole and her tire went flat on the highway. We know that frostbite sets in four minutes, so we immediately sent out a crew with drills and jacks, and within minutes they were able to change her tire and have her on the way.
Although they expect temperatures to rise steadily in the next few days, the people of Chicago will remember this day when they came together and managed to survive this coldest day with unbelievable Torah and chessed.