Over the last year, Yeshiva Ohr Simcha in Englewood raised $800,000 for renovations. Over the summer, it put the finishing touches on its library, to the tune of $30,000.
On the night of September 1, Hurricane Ida’s floodwaters swept it all away.
But as Rabbi Elchonon Butrimovitz, the school’s administrator, contemplated the more than one million dollars worth of damage to the 22,000 square foot, one-story building on West Forest Avenue in an Englewood business district, he knew that things could have been a lot worse.
All of the residential school’s 50 students and the five faculty members who lived there were ferried safely to dry ground that night.
“There was a car driven by a 29-year-old fellow,” Rabbi Butrimovitz said. He got caught in the flood on the street by the yeshiva. “My guys pulled him out through the sunroof.”
Another man, 75 years old, was driving past the yeshiva on his way home to Teaneck after visiting his wife in Englewood Hospital. He got out of his stalled car — and vanished. He had fallen through a manhole whose cover had been dislodged by surging floodwaters. “They dived in and had to pull him out by his arms.”
On Monday, New Jersey’s Governor Phil Murphy reported that the death toll from the storm in the state had risen to 30 people.
As the floodwaters rose outside the building, school administrators tried calling 911 for two hours — but they were unable to get through the jammed lines. Then the waters burst through the front door, and the yeshiva was flooded with two and a half feet of water.
“It was really scary,” Rabbi Butrimovitz said. He was at home in Spring Valley, watching on the school’s security cameras.
Rescue initially came in the form of volunteers from Chaverim groups, volunteer Orthodox emergency rescue organizations from across the tristate area. Finally, the Englewood police arrived — with boats.
Congregation Shomrei Emunah — half a mile away, and well uphill — opened as a staging area for the evacuation. The Teaneck Marriott at Glenpointe put the students and faculty up for the night. The Chaverim volunteers brought food. “It was amazing what the chesed organizations did,” Rabbi Butrimovitz said.
The morning after, it was clear how much damage the floodwaters had done.
“Basically, the whole building was destroyed,” Rabbi Butrimovitz said.
All the drywall was wet. All the insulation was ruined. All the electric sockets had to be replaced, although the wiring was unharmed.
“Every chair, all the beds, dressers. Everything is gone. The hot water heater, the boiler, the kitchen refrigerator — all shot,” Rabbi Butrimovitz said. Even the parking lot was destroyed.
For now, the school — which draws from Monsey, Passaic, Lakewood, and places further away, such as Baltimore — has set up shop in Camp Monroe in New York’s Orange County.
“We’re hoping we can move quickly and get these guys back in,” Rabbi Butrimovitz said.
The now-ruined renovations include redone floors and upgraded bathrooms, as well as renovations to the library.
“We were about to install a new kitchen,” Rabbi Butrimovitz said. “Thank goodness we didn’t.”
The yeshiva has flood insurance because it is in a flood zone — Overpeck Creek runs through the lot across the street — but that, Rabbi Butrimovitz said, “only gives us $300,000 with a $50,000 deductible.” He didn’t expect his standard insurance to help.
As of Monday, the yeshiva had raised nearly a quarter of million dollars in a fundraising campaign at TheChesedFund.org. That means that’s it’s a quarter of the way toward its goal of one million dollars. Meanwhile, its annual lulav-and-etrog sale has been relocated to Englewood’s East Hill Synagogue.