Family suffers house fire; aid pours in from community
Staff Writer, New Jersey Jewish News
The Scott family home in Succasunna still smells of smoke. A makeshift wooden frame in the family room ensures the roof won’t fall in. You can see the sky through the wall over the fireplace, where the fire started.
The blaze ripped through the house at 80 South Hillside Ave. on April 6 — within hours of Evelyn Scott’s mother’s death, while her husband, Craig, and two of their three daughters were home preparing for the shiva.
Craig had taken the phone outside to answer a call, and that’s when he saw the smoke, and then fire, pouring out of the roof.
After getting his daughters and the family’s two dogs to safety, he went back inside to try to put the fire out. “I heard the most ungodly roar,” he told NJJN, and ran out.
They lost nearly everything, Evelyn sat shiva at a nearby Hyatt Hotel, and the family eventually moved into a rental house in nearby Ledgewood, where they will stay until their home is rebuilt — they hope by next April, the Scotts said.
But that is only half the story. The fire has taught the Scott family a lot about being part of a giving community.
Assistance has poured in unsolicited, from people they knew, barely knew, and didn’t know at all. It started as soon as the fire started, as neighbors and strangers rushed over to help and make sure everyone was safe. Generous donations came from office colleagues and friends of friends — and from the Police Athletic League to help cover hotel costs until they found the rental home.
Meeting with a visitor over bagels in their Ledgewood kitchen July 11, Evelyn pulled out a large manila envelope fat with cards, many containing checks and cash, with notes reading, “You don’t know me, but…”
The Jewish community also stepped up, with help coming from Temple Hatikvah in Flanders, the family’s congregation, and from other Morris County synagogues, including Morristown Jewish Center Beit Yisrael, Adath Shalom in Morris Plains, and Mount Freedom Jewish Center in Randolph.
The Nathan Bohrer-Abraham Kaufman Hebrew Academy of Morris County in Randolph is in a category all its own, according to the Scotts. Within two weeks of the fire, the school raised $19,000 to help the family get back on its feet.
“This school is really family; it’s not just a school,” said Craig. The Scotts had already been receiving what he called a “substantial” break on tuition since he lost his engineering job at BASF 18 months ago. (He found a new job about eight weeks ago.) Their two older daughters, Laura, 18, and Dana, who turned 16 the day of the fire, both graduated from HAMC; Brenna, 13, is a rising eighth-grader.
Naomi Bacharach, HAMC’s director of marketing and development, spearheaded the drive. Following a conversation with Craig and Evelyn soon after the fire, she said, “I was thinking about the power of e-mail and what a close-knit community we live in, and I just thought I would see what we could raise.” She knew there would be support, since the Scotts have been part of HAMC since Laura was in fourth grade.
“I really had no idea how much we could raise; I thought maybe $5,000-$7,000,” said Bacharach. “But then the checks started coming in. And two weeks later we had raised $19,000,” she said.
The gifts the family has received are not only monetary.
One family, after hearing from Bacharach, offered to go through the rubble to help collect pictures and precious items. Others donated goods — beds, televisions, dining room sets; the preschool offered a set of pots and pans. Another group sent the Scott daughters to a local day spa. And, Craig said, “mothers I didn’t know at school wanted pick the girls up to take them shopping!”
Craig has been volunteering in the school kitchen. One day after the fire, chatting with a fellow volunteer parent, he commented on the odd knives the insurance company had provided, describing how they bent and never cut anything properly. His co-worker quietly excused herself. She returned within half an hour and presented Craig with a good set of knives and a better frying pan than the one he had.
“Normal people don’t react like this,” said Craig. “Normal people just ignore it and go on with their lives. Jewish women — they just gotta do.”
The family at first had a hard time accepting gifts.
Craig recalled how Bacharach and former HAMC president Arlyn Rayfield suggested they handle it, telling him, “Look. You’re Jewish. You just need to start getting comfortable saying thank you. These are all Jewish moms, and this is how they cope. You cope your way, they cope theirs. Just say thank you.”