The Brooklyn father who lost seven of his eight children in a home fire on Saturday called his kids “a sacrifice” to the community.
New York residents gathered Sunday to mourn the deaths of the seven siblings killed in a fire believed to have been started by a hot plate.
The bodies of the Sassoon family children, ages 5 to 16, will be flown to Israel for a prompt burial in Jerusalem after the service.
The father, Gabriel Sassoon, broke down at the eulogy — and sobbed as he tried to recite the names of his late children, saying they were “angels” — in a wake attended by thousands mourners from the ultra-Orthodox community, the New York Post reported.
They were named by the Hebrew media as Ya’akov, 5; Sarah, 6; Moshe, 8; Yehoshua, 10; Rivkah, 11; David, 12, and Elian, 16, and were either declared dead at the scene or at nearby hospitals.
Their mother, Gayle, and sister, Tzipporah, 15, remained hospitalized in critical condition. They are unaware of the seven deaths.
“They all had faces of angels. Hashem [God] knows how much I love them,” Sassoon said.
He was out of town at a religious conference when the fire consumed his home shortly after midnight Saturday. Officials have blamed an unattended hot plate warming Shabbat meals as the cause.
“People forget what’s important in life. My kids were the best, but really, every child is the best and most beautiful child in the world,” he said, visibly shaken as he recited the names of his kids.
“They were a burnt offering. I lost everything in the fire. Seven pure sheep. Those are my seven children. Too many names. They are seven complete pure sheep. There’s nothing else to say,” he said.
“There’s only one way to survive this. There is only total and complete surrender. Our wishes are tiny compared to what Hashem has planned,” he said.
State Assemblyman Dov Hikind, of Brooklyn, called the deaths “an absolute disaster.”
“The family had been planning to spend Shabbos in Deal, NJ, but had changed their minds because of the snowstorm. And then this happened,” Hikind said, adding that the event is “an unbelievable tragedy.”
Gayle Sassoon reportedly had planned to take the children out of town for the weekend — to her parents’ home in southern New Jersey — but stayed home because of a snowstorm that hit the New York area.
The children died after flames engulfed their home in Brooklyn’s Midwood neighborhood early Saturday.
Hikind said alternatives may have to be found for the practice of keeping a hot plate on for Shabbat, a common modern method for religious Jews to heat food without turning appliances on or off on the holy day. Many families simply leave them on throughout the day so they are usable without violating prohibitions against doing work.
Earlier, Commissioner Daniel Nigro told reporters that the scale of the fire was unprecedented.
“This is the largest tragedy by fire that this city has had in seven years,” Nigro said. “It’s a tragedy for this family, it’s a tragedy for this community, it’s a tragedy for the city.”
“To find a house full of children that can’t be revived, I’m sure this will take its toll on our members for quite some time,” Nigro said, according to CNN.
Fire investigators found a smoke detector in the basement of the home, but so far none have been found elsewhere in the house, Nigro said.
“There was no evidence of smoke detectors on either the first or the second floor that may have alerted this family to the fire,” he said.
Firefighters received a call at 12:23 a.m. about the blaze at the single-family home in Midwood, a leafy section of Brooklyn known for its low crime and large Orthodox Jewish population. Fire department spokesman Jim Long said more than 100 firefighters responded and brought the blaze under control by around 1:30 a.m.
A man who lives next door to the burned home told The New York Times that the family was large and loving and that some of the kids had helped neighbors shovel snow on Friday.
“They’re very good people, the kids were always helping people,” he told the newspaper.
Neighbor Nate Weber told the New York Post that he saw children being wheeled away on stretchers.
“I just turned away. I didn’t even want to look,” he said.
Weber told the New York Daily News he heard the children’s mother yelling for someone to rescue her children after she jumped from a window.
“I heard a woman yelling: ‘My kids are in there. Get them out! Get them out!’” he told the Post.
AP, AFP and JTA contributed to this story.