Monsey Memories: The Bais Shraga Fire of 1965

Monsey Memories: The Bais Shraga Fire of 1965

By: Yitzy Fried

It was the winter of 1965, and Mesivta Bais Shraga—founded by a son and son-in-law of Rav Shraga Feivel Mendelowitz brought Torah to Monsey— was located at the corner of Grove Street and Route 306.

Founded Rav Shmuel Mendlowitz and Rav Yehoshua Schiff, the Yeshiva had acquired the old home in 1956, and the yeshiva was growing fast—and had been in need of a bigger space in any case— when a fire broke out in the attic of the structure, making this need even more acute.

We read the following in The Journal News:

“Fifteen teenage students were rescued from a burning school building in Monsey last night. One man was injured in the blaze. The second floor and roof of Mesifta Beth Shraga School on the corner of Grove Street and Route 306 in Monsey was burning. The fire started at 12:40 a.m. in the attic of the building and broke through three places in the roof.

“The upstairs floor of the building is used as a student dormitory and 15 students ranging in age from 12 to 17 were sleeping there at the time of the fire. The sleeping students were roused by one of the boys in the dormitory.

“Erwin Chambers, the porter at the school, is in ‘satisfactory’ condition at Good Samaritan Hospital this morning. He reportedly jumped from the second floor window. He was taken to the hospital by the Spring Valley Emergency truck.

“The cause of the fire has not yet been determined, accrding to Ramapo Police this morning., he it is known that the fire started in the attic and spread to the roof. A large section of the roof in the front of the building collapsed. Part of the roof in the rear of the building also caved in.

“There was little apparent fire damage to the first floor classrooms or offices, but the floors were flooded with water this morning and the ceilings were sagging with dripping water from the floor above. Three trucks of the Monsey fire department answered the call. Approximately, 30 firemen fought the blaze until six this morning.

“Although the building is heavily damaged, school officials were expressing thanks that the children were all rescued without injury. Rabbi Samuel Mendlowitz, dean of the school, picked his way through the puddles of water on the floor this morning and went to his office. He unlocked the door, stepped to his desk, picked up a manila envelope and exclaimed, ‘ah, the postcards are intact.’

“The building was the former Monsey Gardens Hotel. The Jewish school, in operation since October 1965, is used by both resident and local students. The rabbi sad this morning that the school is trying to make arrangements to hosue the 15 students displaced by the fire in a local hotel. The school has approximately 50 students, most of whom are from out of town.”

The yeshiva did go on to recover from this event, and has continued to thrive and expand to this very day.

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