From Our CEO
Life’s Most Persistent and Urgent Question
January 14th, 2022

When 17 lives are lost in an apartment building fire, 8 of them children, there’s little anyone can do to lessen the grief of the survivors. What we can do is offer to help in any way possible.

Immediately after learning of the horrific fire in the Bronx on Sunday, UJA senior staff reached out to elected officials, city leadership, and our nonprofit partners in the area to see how we could be most helpful.

We know from the gratitude we’ve felt when others have shown up for the Jewish community in times of crisis that our outreach was genuinely appreciated. One elected official said that the Jewish community’s support of those devastated by the fire “means the world.”

After consulting with city officials, our first $20,000 grant early Monday morning was to a fund set up by the mayor’s office to help with immediate costs related to relief for families. Many of the victims were Muslim immigrants from Gambia, and we learned they needed financial support to help cover the cost of funerals. Working with the local mosque in the Bronx, as well as local partners, we gave an additional $25,000 to help ease the burden of funeral costs, including helping families that have chosen to return to Gambia to bury loved ones.

We also reached out to BronxWorks, a grassroots nonprofit that we’ve come to know just this last year, having allocated a microgrant to the organization as part of UJA’s initiative to combat vaccine hesitancy. BronxWorks runs an office for senior programming in a building adjacent to the one that suffered the fire, and is now one of the central community organizations helping victims. We provided a $15,000 grant to BronxWorks to support their important efforts.

Also jumping into action to provide aid were our agency partners, including JCRC-NY, Bronx House, and Moshulu Montefiore Community Center, who operate on the front lines of these neighborhoods. Met Council, another UJA partner, provided families from the building with $200 emergency food cards, as well as Halal food packages. Beyond UJA, other Jewish organizations have mobilized — serving food near the site of the fire from Sunday onward, coordinating clothing collections, food drives, and more — a powerful showing of support from New York neighbors across the region.

Tuesday evening, we joined a vigil in front of the building in the Bronx, letting the community know that they don’t carry their grief alone. It was a somber occasion on a cold night, but we wanted our presence to be quietly felt. We also know that with scores injured, some critically, there is still a long road ahead for survivors to heal physically and emotionally.

In the context of this tragedy and mindful of MLK Day coming up, I’m inspired by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s famous words: “Life’s most persistent and urgent question is, 'What are you doing for others?’”

Certainly, these last 22 months have lent even more urgency to this question. And we’ve seen how so many have answered with extraordinary acts of kindness, stepping up for their neighbors and their communities as never before.

In honor of Dr. King’s birthday, we can do even more.

This Monday, we invite you to join us in person or virtually to honor Dr. King’s life and legacy by performing acts of service. There is a range of over 30 volunteer opportunities across New York City, Westchester, and Long Island, from packing and delivering food to working a phone bank that connects families to food assistance. And on Sunday, we’re having an evening of learning with incredible teachers from some of our nonprofit partners about the struggle for racial justice and universal belonging, and the Jewish community’s role in this work.

A week that began with unthinkable tragedy ends with a reminder that our actions have meaning — and the question “What are you doing for others?” is one that we must persist in answering as a community, in crisis and every day. 

Shabbat shalom