Paul Gingras says that he was literally in a daze when he saved Aviva and Zahava Seidenfeld from their burning Teaneck home last March.
Still, he remembers the night clearly. It was about ‘ a.m. on March ”, ‘005. He was sleeping, but was awakened by screaming from the house next door. His bedroom window faced his neighbors’, and when he looked out, he saw "people in the window yelling to call the fire department." He ran outside, yelled at them to "get on the roof," and he ran and grabbed a ladder.
Paul Gingras saved two Seidenfeld children from their burning Teaneck home.
By the time the police and fire departments showed up, he had helped bring then 7-year-old Aviva and 14-year-old Zahava to safety.
For his heroic action, Ramapo College of New Jersey named him as one of 19 finalists for its Russ Berrie Award for Making a Difference earlier this month. The award, given annually, was created by the late Jewish philanthropist Russ Berrie in 1997 to recognize those heroes who usually fly under the radar and awards them cash grants.
This year, Sa’dah Sharif was given the top award and a $50,000 grant for her work with Baitl Hemayah, a shelter that helps Muslim women who are victims of domestic abuse, according to Ramapo College.
Father Ronald Stanley, a campus chaplain, received $35,000 for his work in the Dominican Republic trying to help bring people living in remote parts of the Island closer to the First World.
Gingras was one of 16 finalists who received a $’,500 grant.
"Russ wanted to create an award specifically for unsung heroes people who really make a difference by dedicating their lives to improving life or helping others," said his widow, Angelica Berrie, in a release through the school.
The 58-year-old Gingras, who works in commercial real estate, said that he tries not to think too deeply about the details of the fire at the Seidenfeld home because, even though he saved the two girls, and even though their mother Philyss survived, four children died in the fire.
And he said that it is still difficult for his wife Azucena to look at his neighbors’ still boarded-up house.
Gingras, who is not Jewish and has lived in Teaneck for ‘4 years, said that he was friendly with his next-door neighbors but they were never particularly close because his children are grown and out of the house.
But he has checked up on Philyss Seidenfeld a couple of times, and said that the last time he saw her, several months ago, "she was doing great."
He said that the $’,500 "came in handy," but he never expected or felt he even deserved an award for his actions.
"They were giving out awards to a lot of people who spent their lifetimes working on things," he said. "I just ran out and grabbed a ladder."