— Jewish proverb
This week my brother’s family has been carried aloft on the strong shoulders of a community whose compassion is without limit.
This outpouring of support followed a devastating fire that destroyed the family’s home last Saturday evening.
A Hanukah menorah ignited the blaze. It sat on the same mantel where they’ve lit candles for 34 years. Somehow the candles ignited a painting over the fireplace, which set the ceiling on fire. Within minutes the house was consumed. My niece, her husband, and two small kids were also living in that house, and were home when it happened.
All four of them made it out alive and unharmed. In Israel on Hanukah they say, ‘Nes Gadol Haya Po’– a great miracle happened here. Last Saturday we could say the same.
Two pets also made it out, but two pets perished.
My brother and sister-in-law were at a movie when it happened. They sped home to a house that was no more. If you think that flames blazing across the night sky only occur in the movies, think again.
It was the worst thing I’ve ever seen. Complete destruction. Nothing remained, including all the belongings of my niece and her family that had been stored in the garage.
“Here we are, with only the clothes on our backs,” my brother said.
The six of them came back to my house, where they are staying as long as needed.
We sat together Saturday night in shock. We scrambled to find clean clothes and toothbrushes for everyone. At long last we went to bed. No one slept much.
Word of the disaster spread fast. By Sunday morning friends were dropping off Target bags of clothes and toys, boxes of bagels and donuts. Every time I walked by my front door, another bag had appeared, as if fairies had left it there.
These were from friends, the inner circle, the ones you expect to step up.
By Sunday evening offers of help extended far, far beyond the inner circle. A friend thought it made sense to set up a GoFundMe page. He was right. Donations of all sizes poured in.
An Amazon wish list was set up too. For the past few days, my front step looks like Santa emptied the whole sleigh there. Everyone’s basic needs have been replenished.
People have brought us meals, offered to babysit, sent emails, texts, and Facebook messages of love and support.
What has left my brother, sister-in-law, and their family speechless with gratitude is the scope of help. It has come from friends, friends-of-friends, and strangers. Jewish community and non-Jewish community. People they work with now and colleagues from the past. Customers, former students, and people who simply heard about it and wanted to help.
One person wrote this on the GoFundMe page: “Just heartbroken for this family I don’t know.”
What kind of community produces people like that? The kind of community we are so lucky to live in.
“Minnesota Nice” is for real.
This outpouring of support will enable two families who lost so much to rebuild. But more than that, the support will help them recover emotionally. Losing your home to fire is a massive horror. But even in this horror, there is beauty, thanks to the compassion and generosity of people who want to help.
Every act of kindness contains this message: You are not suffering alone. In that space there is holiness.
And in this week of horrendous loss, that is what will carry everyone forward.