It was in the spring of 1983 that the bullets began to rain down on Yeshiva University’s Washington Heights Campus. I had just walked by Furst Hall, the main classroom and administrative building when a drive-by shooter pierced its wide glass-door entrance with the first volley of bullets. Other incidents were to follow in and around our urban campus, putting Yeshiva on high alert. The response by the NYPD was swift and pervasive.
Lookout sites were set up, and Yeshiva quickly became an armed camp. With the calm restored over the ensuing months, the YU community in due course held a special program to thank New York’s finest, and above all its caring and engaged mayor.
Mayor Ed Koch came to campus and was greeted by the senior RIETS rosh yeshiva, Rav Dovid Lifshitz, who in his inimitable way took and held the mayor’s hand and said to him, “I am very proud of you.” The mayor, in turn thanked “the great rabbi.”
Koch’s handling of the crisis at YU was one of many “take charge” situations that became the trademark of his mayoralty. He didn’t vacillate, waffle or procrastinate. He restored calm to YU’s torn and terrified terrain. It was vintage Koch; he was the kind of leader who took no pains to express his disgust and concern at a societal ill when obvious and apparent. It was obvious in the decisive action he took with law enforcement to make YU and its environs safe again.
We students were taught an important lesson from the otherwise unlikely interaction of these two very different leaders, who on that occasion, in that shared space, saw their minds meet and meld in a nexus of mutual regard and concern.