A sociologist with wide-ranging interests, William Helmreich was a longtime professor at City College of the City University of New York and a member of the Great Neck Synagogue in Long Island. He passed away on March 28 after contracting COVID-19.

Helmreich had a particular passion for the study of Orthodox Jews; in 1982, he published his seminal work The World of the Yeshiva: An Intimate Portrait of Orthodox Jewry, among more than a dozen other books.

Helmreich also had a special affinity for New York City: He walked 6,048 miles, covering almost every block in the city’s five boroughs: Queens, Manhattan, Staten Island, Brooklyn and the Bronx. It took him four years, walking an average of 1,512 miles a year. He wore out nine pairs of shoes. This venture culminated with his 2013 masterpiece The New York Nobody Knows: Walking 6,000 Miles in the City, which chronicled his citywide walks, talking to and learning about its residents.

Born in 1945 in Switzerland to Holocaust-survivor parents, Helmreich came to the United States as an infant, growing up on Manhattan’s Upper West Side. He attended Yeshiva University for college and obtained his doctorate at Washington University in St. Louis.

“Willie was in precisely the wrong profession for the coronavirus: He was a sociologist, and he loved interacting with people,” Brandeis University professor Jonathan Sarna told the Jewish Telegraphic Agency. “Social distancing was not in his nature. Connecting with people is the point of his book about walking New York, and his scholarship also saw him exercising his interview skills in a wide range of ways. His book The World of the Yeshiva pioneered a subject that few, at the time, considered worthy of study.”

Among his other titles are Against All Odds: Holocaust Survivors and the Successful Lives they Made in America and The Enduring Community: The Jews of Newark and Metrowest.

Helmreich is survived by his wife, Helaine, and their three children: Deborah Halpern, Joseph Helmreich and Jeffrey Helmreich, a professor of philosophy and law at University of California, Irvine. A fourth child, Alan, died two decades ago.

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