By Benjamin Koslowe, YU Commentator
On Sunday, January 28, a male former YU student armed with a knife gained entrance into the Glueck Center on the Wilf campus, eventually threatening the lives of two Roshei Yeshiva, as well as the lives of those attending a lecture.
The man entered the Glueck Center shortly after 10:00 AM. He immediately headed to the third floor of the building, where he encountered YU Rosh Yeshiva Rabbi Michael Rosensweig. After a brief altercation in which the man threatened Rabbi Rosensweig’s life, the man entered a classroom where YU Rosh Yeshiva Rabbi Hershel Reichman was delivering a lecture. The man yelled threats to those in attendance. YU security was called, and the man was apprehended by the New York Police Department (NYPD) and taken to the hospital. No one present was physically injured.
As of the time of publication, The Commentator was unable to learn details about the perpetrator’s identity or the NYPD’s response to the incident.
After the incident, rumors proliferated among the student body about the details of Sunday’s incident. Many students described to The Commentator that they felt confused and only partially informed about what exactly happened after they received sparse updates from YU security during and after the episode.
The perpetrator was described by one witness as a bearded man in his twenties or thirties wearing a winter coat and his tzitzis out. According to a YU spokesperson from the Office of Communications and Public Affairs, the man is a former student who scheduled an appointment with Rabbi Hershel Reichman. According to the spokesperson, he “checked in with the security desk” by the first floor entrance to the building, and proceeded to the third floor of Glueck, where the incident occurred. Rabbi Reichman told The Commentator that this former student of his called him on Friday to schedule the appointment. YU security declined to elaborate on the matter, deferring to the statement offered by the Office of Communications and Public Affairs.
Upon exiting the elevator, the man encountered Rabbi Michael Rosensweig and approached him. Rabbi Rosensweig told The Commentator that the man, who seemed to not know who he was speaking with, began to swear at the top of his lungs, demanding that Rabbi Rosensweig “read this!” When Rabbi Rosensweig asked the man who he was and why he was screaming, the man pulled out a knife and told Rabbi Rosensweig, “read this or I’ll slit your throat.”
Rabbi Rosensweig managed to calm the man, who then identified himself as Jewish, apparently in answer to Rabbi Rosensweig’s question. He then thrusted a card into Rabbi Rosensweig’s hand, which Rabbi Rosensweig was not able to make sense of. The man then stormed down the third floor hallway.
At the time, Rabbi Reichman was delivering a lecture to roughly 20 people on the topic of “The Geirus of Bnei Yisrael at Har Sinai” as part of the Abraham Arbesfeld Kollel Yom Rishon program for Men, run by YU’s Center for the Jewish Future (CJF) and Rabbi Isaac Elchanan Theological Seminary (RIETS). Kollel Yom Rishon typically features two or three YU speakers on Sunday mornings who deliver lectures in the Glueck 307 classroom, which seats 30-50 people, after which light food is served. Rabbi Reichman’s lecture was scheduled to run from 9:30-10:30, and Rabbi Rosensweig was scheduled to speak afterwards at 10:30. The man entered the room on Sunday morning at around 10:20.
As the man entered the classroom, Rabbi Rosensweig, who was still in the hallway, happened to see the person in charge of Kollel Yom Rishon. Rabbi Rosensweig whispered that someone had just pulled out a knife and threatened to kill him, advising that the person call security. Rabbi Rosensweig then went into his office on the third floor of Glueck and looked up the Security Department’s phone number. While speaking with The Commentator, Rabbi Rosensweig emphasized that he did not have the phone number immediately available, something that he hopes YU will improve upon in the future. As he was looking up the number, he heard “screaming” from classroom 307. Shortly after, he heard YU security dealing with the situation.
Several witnesses who were present in classroom 307 described that when the man entered the room, he looked visibly disturbed. Rabbi Dr. Moshe Strauch, one of the attendees, told The Commentator that the scariest moment for him was when the man reached into a bag to pull something out. “At first everyone froze in place,” described Strauch. The man revealed a knife and yelled that he could kill everyone. He then placed his knife down on the table, fell on the floor, and began crying and saying that he didn’t want to die. Strauch said, “When he fell to the floor, we were able to go out. At that point I ran downstairs to get security. They came up right away and handled the situation smoothly.” Several students reported seeing the man being removed in handcuffs from Glueck. Once the situation was handled, Rabbi Reichman’s lecture moved to another classroom on the third floor of Glueck and the Kollel Yom Rishon program proceeded normally.
Students on the Wilf and Beren campuses learned about the incident on Sunday morning at 10:48 AM when the YU Security Department sent an email and text message to the student body through its YU Alert System. The email and text, with the subject “Police Activity – Glueck Center – Wilf Campus – Avoid te [sic] Area,” had the following message: “The Police Department has responded to the Glueck Campus for an emotionally disturbed person. There is no current threat to the campus community but you should avoid the area until further notice.” At 11:17 AM another message was delivered by email and text with the subject “All Clear on the Wilf Campus.” This message read: “The Police Department reports that an emotionally disturbed person has been removed to the hospital. Please resume all normal activities on campus.”
Another YU Alert email was sent to students early in the morning on Monday, January 29. “Yesterday morning, a former student wielding a knife entered a public lecture on the Wilf Campus,” began the email. “Security responded immediately, disarming and apprehending him until the NYPD arrived on the scene. No one was injured during the incident.” The email continued, “Our top priority is always the safety and well-being of our students, faculty, staff, and campus community, and we work closely with our local precinct to fulfill this obligation. That ensured a quick response to the situation. Of course, it also ensures our full and complete cooperation in the ongoing investigation into the matter.” The email concluded by advising students to carry their YU ID cards at all times, and to contact the security office upon observing any suspicious or threatening behavior.
“Security was notified and promptly arrived at the scene, where they were able to disarm and detain him until the NYPD showed up,” wrote the YU spokesperson to The Commentator. “We applaud the swift response of our security personnel in handling this situation without any resulting injuries. While this was an isolated incident, the safety and security of our campus community remains our top priority and we will review our existing safety protocols to ensure that the best procedures and practices are in place.”