Hundreds attend funeral of 7 kids killed in NY fire
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Hundreds attend funeral of 7 kids killed in NY fire

In Jerusalem, bereaved father eulogizes ‘seven innocent lambs’; mother, daughter remain in critical condition

The Sassoon family. Seven of the eight siblings perished when a fire broke out in the family's Brooklyn home early Saturday morning, March 21, 2015. (Courtesy)
The Sassoon family. Seven of the eight siblings perished when a fire broke out in the family's Brooklyn home early Saturday morning, March 21, 2015. (Courtesy)

Hundreds of people on Monday afternoon attended the funeral of the seven children who perished in a fire in their Brooklyn home over the weekend.

In a eulogy at the Jerusalem funeral, the father, Gabriel Sassoon — who lost seven of his eight children in the deadly blaze — said they were “innocent lambs.”

“Here before you are seven innocent lambs, Elian, Rivka, David, Yehoshua Moshe, Sarah, Ya’akov. Seven lilies. Seven innocent lambs. They were such pure children,” Sassoon said, according to the Ynet news website.

Quoting a verse from the Song of Songs 6:2, “My beloved has gone down to his garden, to the beds of spices, to browse in the gardens and to gather lilies,” Sassoon said: “God took seven lilies.”

“To you God I give everything. My soul. Everything. This is my feeling,” he added.

Gabriel Sassoon at the funeral of his seven children in Jerusalem on March 23, 2015. (photo credit: Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Gabriel Sassoon at the funeral of his seven children in Jerusalem on March 23, 2015. (photo credit: Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

The seven lambs is a reference to the biblical requirement to bring a burnt sacrifice, consisting in part of “seven unblemished lambs,” to the Temple on the first of the month. The seven Sassoon children died on the first day of the Jewish month of Nissan.

The bodies of the children arrived in Israel Monday afternoon ahead of the funeral service. Their mother, Gayle, and sister, Tzipporah, 15, remained hospitalized in critical condition. They are unaware of the seven deaths.

New York residents gathered Sunday to mourn the deaths, as investigators blamed a malfunctioning hot plate of the type commonly used on Shabbat for sparking the deadly blaze on Saturday.

Sassoon broke down at a eulogy in Brooklyn Sunday and sobbed as he tried to recite the names of his late children, saying they were “angels,” in a memorial service attended by thousands of 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.

Rivkah Sassoon, 11, who perished in a fire in her Brooklyn family home together with her 6 siblings, March 21, 2015 (photo credit: screen capture/Channel 2)
Rivkah Sassoon, 11, who perished in a fire in her Brooklyn family home together with her 6 siblings, March 21, 2015. (photo credit: screen capture/Channel 2)

“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.

“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, New Jersey, but had changed their minds because of the snowstorm. And then this happened,” Hikind said, adding that the event is “an unbelievable tragedy.”

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.

An FDNY firefighter looks over the scene of a house fire Saturday, March 21, 2015, in the Brooklyn borough of New York. (photo credit: AP/Craig Ruttle)
An FDNY firefighter looks over the scene of a house fire in the Brooklyn borough of New York City, March 21, 2015. (photo credit: AP/Craig Ruttle)

“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.

New York's Fire Commissioner Daniel Nigro describes the fire to reporters during a news conference, Saturday, March 21, 2015, in the Brooklyn borough of New York, Saturday, March 21, 2015. (photo credit: AP/Mary Altaffer)
New York’s Fire Commissioner Daniel Nigro describes the fire to reporters during a news conference, March 21, 2015. (photo credit: AP/Mary Altaffer)

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.

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