| Family Tempo |

Family Fiction: Facing the Flames

If your home was on fire and you had a choice of just one item to save what would it be? 

We would play the game in camp. We would speculate and argue with youthful energy. A siddur. An heirloom necklace. Money. What was truly important? Naive and innocent to us the game held no fear. Fires happened in novels in fictional stories of characters saving lives then running out unscathed. 

Years later I watched the terrifying question play out in real life.

I see a police car pull up, followed moments later by a fire department car. Then the bus arrives. Figuring the emergency services are conducting a routine inspection or something, I calmly wave Adina goodbye. “Have a great day. I love you!” I say, then turn and sluggishly walk toward my front door, thoughts of a muffin and coffee on my mind.

I inhale deeply, enjoying the fresh air, the scent of summer.

The scent of summer?

The scent of fire.

I glance around. FIRE! A real, growing, hungry, angry fire. Rising from a basement window, the flames seem about to devour the structure. No routine inspection. This is a real fire.

By now, I hear shrill sirens. A small crowd of neighbors gathers.

“What’s going on?” Mrs. Gruenbaum asks.

“Fire, fire, fire,” Leah Ganz answers, waving her hands frantically.

One guy stands calmly with his iPhone, videoing the scene.

I see the fire coming out of the windows of the Levinson condo. The fire is in danger of spreading next door, to the attached apartment.

Listening to snippets of neighbors’ conversations, I understand that the Levinsons are away; blessedly, no one is stuck inside. But the concern now is the Klein’s apartment next door. There is no firewall protection, and the home was built with wood. The Kleins are urged to leave as soon as possible, as the danger is mounting.

I watch the Klein family drama in fascinated horror. Michoel Klein, a teenaged son, walks quickly out of his house. His hands are laden with silver and seforim. Moments later, Mrs. Klein comes out with a large pile of suits. Seeing the speed of the fire, and the likelihood that it will soon lick their walls, the Kleins are trying to take out some valuables, trying to save some shreds of normalcy.

Gawking neighbors quickly rise to the challenge. With only minutes, a few women enter the Klein home to try to help. Following the few people with the bright idea, I hesitantly walk into the house of limited lifespan. I feel like I am intruding upon someone’s very personal tragedy. A pit in my stomach forces me to imagine the feeling of being able to save only a few of the many things in my home.

I can’t do this.

I feel their agony. The acrid smell of smoke tells me just how much longer this house will last. I feel the anguish of losing a lifetime of precious objects in just a few minutes.

I hurriedly walk over to the china closet, and remove some of the silver items. My hands shake. The lights have gone out, and little sunlight penetrates the doom. I can’t look at Mr. or Mrs. Klein, who have just reentered their home. I avert my eyes, and head to the front door.

I wish I could suspend my faculty of hearing. I don’t want to hear the wails, the tears of someone watching their home burn down. Surprisingly, there is nothing to hear. As the family gathers important things, the home feels calm.

“Careful,” Mr. Klein says to me, as I pass the foyer on my way out. “Some eggs cracked here. Be careful, don’t slip.”


Mrs. Klein walks out of her home calmly, and places some items in their car.

No panic. No sign of a family losing their home.

I walk out of their house in a trance, with laden hands, and blazing thoughts. The flames start to hiss angrily, and someone yells, “Everyone out. Don’t go back in!”

Later, much later, when the fire it out and the heavy odor of smoke had settled, I could finally think. My brain fumbled with the question, How on earth had the Kleins done this with dignity?

I could not get the picture out of my mind. A house burning, and its inhabitants calm and mindful of others.

And then I heard a comment that granted me clarity. “Mrs. Klein was so calm,” a friend remarked, “because she’s someone who’s worked on herself.”

And that’s when I realized that this wasn’t a one-time thing. The Kleins hadn’t suddenly evolved into angels of acceptance at the crackle of the first flame. This was a display of work on self, of inner growth.

I’ve never watched a scene of such faith, of acceptance. I hope never to watch that again.

But I’ve learned that calm acceptance of His Will doesn’t just come along with fire. It’s something built brick by brick, like a home. Mrs. Klein did that, with faith and trust in His Will, each day.

And with her foundation of faith, she fought the flames with acceptance.


(Originally featured in Family First, Issue 496)

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