More than a week after a fire in the Bronx, N.Y., killed 17 people, including eight children, the Jewish community is continuing to provide aid to the families of those who lost loved ones and those who were displaced by the blaze.

“I have been saying throughout the week, nobody wishes to be in such a calamity, in such a difficult situation, but if anyone is to be in such condition, the best place to be is in New York, and the reason is primarily the Jewish community’s infrastructure. You name it; it is already in place,” said Sheikh Musa Drammeh, who is a local religious leader and has been coordinating relief efforts for the families.

“The Jewish organizations were among the first on the ground,” he added—“the first professionals, the first donors, the first to console the families, and to show solidarity and fellowship.”

From providing meals and necessary goods to housing and financial aid, the Jewish community, including schools, synagogues, nonprofits, official communal agencies and even the Consulate General of Israel has stepped up to offer assistance.

“Today, I had a rabbi call me and say, ‘Don’t hesitate to tell me what you need,’ ” said Drammeh in an interview with JNS on Monday, eight days after the tragic fire.

Items collected for those recovering from a devastating fire in the Bronx, N.Y., on Jan. 9, 2022. Credit: The Riverdale Jewish Center.

‘A mercy to the world’

The Jan. 9 fire displaced more than 100 families—most of whom are Muslim and many of whom are immigrants from Gambia, as is Drammeh himself, though he lives in a different neighborhood about two miles away.

A funeral for some of the victims was held on Sunday in New York, while others were returned to their native Gambia for burial. Helping to defray the costs of those burials was the UJA-Federation of New York, which donated some $25,000 to the cause.

According to Drammeh, everyone was so touched that the sheikh felt he had to let officials in Gambia know about the Federation’s generosity. “The first lady of Gambia was so moved. … She said we will make sure this gesture is recognized.”

That was the second donation by UJA-Federation in the aftermath of the blaze. Initially, they had allocated $20,000 for emergency relief, that funding went to a grant set up by city officials.

According to Rabbi Bob Kaplan, executive director for the Jewish Community Relations Council-New York’s Center for community leadership, it’s not the first time that the Jewish community has helped in the wake of a deadly Bronx fire.

“We met much of the African leadership [in the Bronx] in 2017, when there was a similar horrible fire in the community. We responded then, and we respond now,” said Kaplan, who attended the Bronx funeral on Sunday.

He and Drammeh have known each other for some 20 years, with Kaplan attesting that his colleague “just does amazing work.”

He credits Drammeh, who runs a Muslim school in the Bronx, with fostering warm relations between the Jewish and Muslim communities over the years, noting that the sheikh has gone to Israel with the JCRC and offered a group of elderly Jews use of his school building last year after their synagogue closed down.

Drammeh called the Jewish community “a mercy to the world,” explaining that “what they collectively have demonstrated in the last eight days is the most-humanitarian help possible. We are forever grateful to the Jewish community. … You make New York the best place in good moments and in difficult moments.”


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