Freeborn & Peters LLP Successfully Argues Yeshiva is “Home” for 105 Year-Round Students Stranded in Pennsylvania by COVID-19

NEW YORK, N.Y. – More than 100 young New Yorkers are back “home” through the pro bono efforts of Freeborn & Peters LLP. Acting on behalf of the Yeshiva of Nitra Rabbinical College, New York-based Partner Jon Schuyler Brooks convinced State officials the College is the de facto year-round home of its students, including 105 young men stranded in Pennsylvania for weeks because of COVID-19 regulations. Mr. Brooks argued Governor Cuomo’s Executive Order does not prevent people from returning to their place of residence, and demonstrated the students reside at the College most of the year, leaving for more than a day only for Jewish “non-work” holidays when the campus closes, such as Passover. 

Yeshiva of Nitra Rabbinical College trains young men from Orthodox Jewish communities to become Rabbis. Its history is traced to the Yeshiva of Nitra in Slovakia; established in 1907, it was the last surviving yeshiva in occupied Europe during World War II. Holocaust survivors established the College in the United States in 1946. It is one of the pioneering institutions for rigorous Torah study in the United States.  

Governor Cuomo’s Executive Order No. 202.4 closed all schools in the state of New York due to COVID-19, making it unclear whether students could return to the College’s 16-acre Orange County campus when Passover ended. Needing to do something, the College gathered and housed 105 students in a hotel in Pennsylvania, and then tried unsuccessfully to obtain approval from government officials to return the students to campus. As the weeks went by, the sequestration in the Pennsylvania hotel became psychologically taxing for the students, and financially taxing for the College.

Freeborn became involved, and soon thereafter Mr. Brooks opened discussions with officials in Governor Cuomo’s Executive Chamber. In less than 48 hours, the Governor’s office accepted his argument that the students reside at the College, and therefore approved the plan to bring them home. All 105 students have now returned to campus. 

“Without Freeborn’s assistance, all these young men would still be stuck in an undesirable situation,” said Rabbi Michael Ber Weissmandl, the Rosh Yeshiva (Headmaster) of the College. “We are grateful to Freeborn for taking on this matter and understanding its urgency, and to Mr. Brooks for his dedicated and creative approach that allowed us to bring our students home so quickly.”

Freeborn’s Core Values encourage attorneys to dedicate up to 50 hours each year on Pro Bono matters. Many of the firm’s attorneys exceed this. Each year, the firm provides an average of 2,000 hours of legal work to the community: a donation of roughly $700,000. The Pro Bono Committee is chaired by Partner John T. Shapiro.