A fire last week in the Rohr Chabad Student Network of Ottawa building in Canada has damaged the home that serves as the communal gathering spot for Jewish students and as the residence for the area’s emissaries, Yocheved and Rabbi Chaim Boyarsky and their five daughters, ages 2 to 10.
Yocheved Boyarsky was home with her children on the afternoon of April 2, when she smelled something burning in her kitchen. She walked through the room and the adjacent dining room looking for the source of the smell, but all of her appliances were turned off.
Yet the odor persisted. Concerned, she called the fire department. As the house began filling with smoke, the family left their home and awaited the firefighters, who went down to the basement and discovered the source of the fire.
“There’s a crawl space under the floor,” Boyarsky explained, “and that started burning under the kitchen and dining room. The firefighters came and couldn’t access that area except by tearing apart the kitchen and dining room.
“Thank G-d, we made it out in time,” she added.
Even though the blaze was contained, the damage—including water damage from battling the flames—remains significant.
“The house is not livable,” said Rabbi Boyarsky. “All the power, the water, it’s all shut off. We are staying in a hotel near campus, and it will take about three months to rebuild.”
As for the Boyarsky children, “they are all a little shaken up,” he said, “but thank G-d, they are doing better now.”
‘Back in Full Force’
Undaunted by their experience, one of the first things the couple did after getting their family settled and dealing with logistics of their situation was holdShabbat services and meals at the University of Ottawa. They were joined by Jewish students from nearby Carleton University.
“We are back in full force,” the rabbi declared. “On Friday night [two days after the fire], there was a very positive energy as the students came out in big numbers. And on Shabbat, we had a minyan and lunch.”
While it seems understandable that the Boyarskys might now chose not to host a big community Passover program this year—especially given that all of the matzah they had bought for the holiday, along with many other things, was destroyed—the family is forging ahead with their plans for holiday, which begins at sundown on Monday, April 14.
“The Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem M. Schneerson, of righteous memory, imbued us with the idea that if there’s a need—and even if it’s a struggle—to try and help,” explained the rabbi.
“For Pesach, it will be extremely difficult and financially hard, but there’s a need. We are the only place on campus that offers kosher food and weekly dinners. These kids need a break, so there’s no ‘if,’ only ‘how,’ ” he went on to say. “We have to make it work. The challenge is a big hurdle, but we have to overcome the hurdle and make it work.”
That, of course, will take effort and planning. The 50 pounds of shmurah matzah—round, homemade matzah made from a grain that is guarded from the moment of harvesting, so that no fermentation occurs—bought for the holiday were destroyed by water damage; a loss of nearly $1,000.
As for the where they will hold programming and meals, the Boyarskys are working on renting hotel space for the holiday. All food will be cooked in a local synagogue with a kosher kitchen. It will then be sent over to the hotel, and stored in rented refrigerators and freezers.
‘Our Duty to Provide’
As for the students, they are already pitching in to help—not just by showing up at events, but by doing all they can to get their Chabad House, which serves those at the University of Ottawa, Carleton University and Algonquin College, up and running.
The Jewish fraternity Alpha Epilson Pi, for instance, is raising money to help rebuild the center. Carleton University junior Lewis Novack is spearheading that campaign.
“All throughout the year, Chabad has been there for students. Never charging a single penny for an event, Chabad has put on dinners, classes and parties for different holidays and celebrations,” said Novack. “They do this all while never casting judgment on a person’s religious views or financial well-being. When the fire hit the Boyarsky family on April 2, it was only our duty to provide what we could to try to help start the rebuilding process.
“The Jewish fraternity, AEPi, and I have a strong and ongoing relationship with Chabad. We partner with Chabad on a variety of events to better our Jewish identity and to give back to the community,” he continued. “The Chabad House is a place we go to unwind from a busy week, have a fun time where food and schmoozing are never-ending, and where we feel at home.”
To donate to the rebuilding efforts, log on to www.chabadstudentnetwork.comand click the donate button.