By Anna Gustafson
Almost one year after a fire destroyed the Zeltser family’s Rego Park home, their lives are finally returning to normal.
Diana Zeltser, 46, her husband and their two children have moved back into their apartment on the 17th floor of a Rego Park building after the March blaze forced them to live with relatives for more than nine months.
“We were extremely impatient and eager to move back in, and now that we have we are euphoric,” Diana Zeltser said in a letter to friends and family. “At the same time, however, it is so strange and so frightening to be back. It is chilling to stand in the same room where the fire occurred. Every sound made, every item in the apartment reminds us of that awful, fateful night.”
Though the apartment, once blackened and filled with charred possessions, is beginning to look more like a home thanks to donations of furniture, Allen Zeltser, 11, said the memories of the fire have made him scared to be in his room. The FDNY said the blaze fought by more than 40 firefighters began in an extension cord to an aquarium in Allen’s room. No one was hurt in the fire.
“He cannot be left alone in the room by himself,” Diana Zeltser said of her son. “I’m trying to help him move on, but the two kids usually sleep in the same room still.”
Despite fears that fire will once again make them homeless, Diana Zeltser said she and her family are optimistic they can piece their lives back together.
Since March donations to the Zeltsers have flooded in and the mother said she has been floored by the generosity of friends and even complete strangers.
“People do amazing, amazing things,” Diana Zeltser said. “We got help from total strangers. It’s nice to know people really care.”
Rego Park resident Ed Gochman, Diana Zeltser’s friend and former colleague at the Brooklyn Social Security office, spearheaded efforts to solicit donations for the family. He created a Web site where people can donate using PayPal, set up a Facebook account and made a YouTube video that showed pictures of the family and the formerly charred apartment.
“Sometimes you have to do deeds that don’t directly benefit you,” Gochman said. “Sometimes you just have to help.”
Rabbi Eli Blokh of Chabad of Rego Park, who heard about the fire from Gochman, set up a fund for the family so individuals could make charitable, tax-deductible donations.
Due in large part to the efforts of Gochman and Blokh, individuals have contributed more than $15,000 to the Zeltser family as well as clothing and furniture.
“We’re not a big congregation or a wealthy congregation, but everybody was moved and everybody pledged,” Block said of individuals who attend Chabad of Rego Park.
The family still needs to make some basic repairs to the apartment, including the closets, and have fallen behind on rent payments, but the mother said she has been floored by the donations that have flooded in from the community.
Despite all the help, life is still hard for the Zeltsers, who were recently profiled in The New York Times’ neediest cases series, and they continue to look for donations to help them finish basic repairs to the apartment.
“You know, even with everything that has happened to us, I still feel lucky,” Diana Zeltser said. “I’m really fortunate nobody died, that my family is safe. We lost everything, we had no insurance, but we have our health, we can work and people around us can help.”
For more information about the Zeltsers, visit helpdianazeltser.weebly.com
Reach reporter Anna Gustafson by e-mail at email@example.com or by phone at 718-260-4574.