On Dec. 9 our family met at our East Brunswick home to light the menorahs, share a festive meal, and enjoy the start of the last day of Chanukah. At approximately 5:30 p.m., everyone left, and my husband, daughter, and I gazed at the menorahs set on the table. We took pictures from inside and outside our home as the glow from the menorahs was so beautiful.
Just 90 minutes after capturing the beauty of the Chanukah lights, a shrill beeping from a smoke detector simultaneously changed and saved our lives. Through heavy black smoke, we raced out our front door to the safety of our lawn and helplessly watched as the flames grew and consumed our home. Within minutes, most of the possessions we had amassed over a lifetime were charred memories.
As we stood in shock, our neighbors brought jackets, blankets, and even shoes. East Brunswick police officers, firefighters, and EMT personnel did their jobs, quelling the fire and managing to save some of our valuables.
Amazingly, even at such a low point, the pendulum began to swing. We turned to our left and right; standing with us was Rabbi Efrayim Unterman along with many friends from Young Israel of East Brunswick. In no time, our children and other family members were at our side. We were not alone. Hugs and words of comfort were soon followed by a warm welcome to the home of my childhood friends Debbie and Jeff Chustckie. We arrived with only the clothes on our backs. Within minutes the emptiness of being homeless and without possessions ebbed away as clothing, food, and offers of temporary housing streamed in. A friend of our daughter Hannah traveled from Teaneck at a late hour with five sets of clothing for the upcoming week and a dozen jelly doughnuts — a reminder that even in this most sad time we still had one more day of Chanukah to celebrate.
Members of our community were quick to respond. They organized meals, loaned tefillin and sefarim, and created a long Google sheet listing requests for necessities for others to contribute; they were filled within one hour.
Rabbi Unterman stood by us for hours the night of the fire, and each day he called and visited us to make sure we were OK. Within a few days he recreated our ketubah. Friends came together, including two to serve as aidim (witnesses) — one dressed in a tuxedo. The speeches given turned what could have been a sad occasion into a happy one. Calls were made to an out-of-town shul member whose East Brunswick house was up for sale to see if they would agree to rent it to us. Within one week, we moved into their very comfortable house, near the shul. Friends quickly arranged a “shower” for me, with over 100 gifts and beautiful cards containing kind words of support.
Our daughter Hannah received support from her friends at Young Israel and from Bruriah High School in Elizabeth, which ran a “pickles on a stick” sale and fund-raiser on her behalf. Friends provided car rides to school, lunches, and new clothing and made countless other gestures of kindness.
The chesed and coming together of friends and family made us feel so much at home in this community. We thank all and wish to reciprocate in the future for good things.
Scott, Ariela, and Hannah Grayman