BONUS Monsey Memories: The Fire That Consumed the Skverer Beis Medrash
As we mourn the Churban of the Beis Hamikdosh, we recall the fire that consumed another mikdash me’at, this one in the fledgling village of New Square, in the spring of 1966.
The shtetl was had just been established one decade previously, and there will still many unpaved roads in the town—and the fire came as a terrible blow to the Chassidus which was just starting out in the area.
It was the second day of Nissan, a day that would become greatly auspicious two years later with the passing of the previous Skverer Rebbe, Rav Yaakov Yosef, zt”l on beis Nissan. But at that time, it was an ordinary night, when one of the residents of the shtetl was heading to the hospital at two o’clock in the morning, only to see, much to his horror, that the entire beis medrash was engulfed in flames.
He frantically alerted some neighbors and called the fire department, who had a difficult task in extinguishing the massive blaze.
When the Skverer Rebbe, zt”l, was told of the news, he emerged on the porch and burst into sobs at the terrible sight. While he was grateful that the holy sefer Torah from Rebbe Yochanan of Rachmastrivka was in his home and thus unscathed, he worried for the fate of the other sifrei Torah which were in the shul.
Immediately, a few yungeleit ran into the shul and indicated to the firefighters to extinguish the area of the aron kodesh first, thus hopefully rescuing the sifrei Torah. They soon emerged with the sifrei Torah, and managed to salvage most of them—though not all.
Seeing this, the Rebbe cried out, “I have lived through many fires already, but never have I had to witness the burning of sifrei Torah.”
In the early morning hours, immediately when the fire had been extinguished, the Rebbe instructed the chassidim to go immerse in the mikveh, and shachris would take place in the yeshiva building. Davening was, understandably, with great emotion and sobs—following the night they had just lived through—and was followed by the recital of the entire Tehillim.
Following this, the Rebbe went to inspect the ruins of the fire. It was a heartbreaking scene, and the Rebbe did not return to the site again other than on Tisha B’Av, when he went to see the ruins and relive the destruction once again.
He then called for Rav Moshe Neuschloss, the rov of the shtetl, and asked him to designate a day of fasting. This would take place the following month since one does not fast during the days of Nissan.
Following the fast day, the Chassidim joined the Rebbe in burying what we left of the lost sifrei Torah in the Beis Hachaim of Kiryas Pupa. Chassidim would say that the Rebbe looked like his was burying his own child, so pained was he.
When the Boyaner Rebbe later visited the Skverer Rebbe and remarked with wonder that the fire did not penetrate the Rebbe’s room which was located in the shul, the Skverer Rebbe replied, “It is no wonder; here, they don’t speak during davening.”