Seven children from an Orthodox Jewish family were memorialized by thousands in Borough Park on March 23, the day after they died in a fire that tore through their home in Midwood. They will be buried in Israel, where they lived until two years ago, on March 24.
The children, ages 5 to 16, were killed overnight Friday when a fire trapped them in the second-floor bedrooms of their home in Brooklyn’s heavily Jewish Midwood neighborhood, The New York Times reported. Authorities said the fire was started by a hot plate often used by observant families to keep food warm on the Jewish sabbath.
Thousands of mourners, many in tears, gathered inside and outside Shomrei Hadas Chapels on Sunday, according to The Times.
Gabriel Sassoon, the victims' father, asked his children in his eulogy to forgive him and his wife, and implored his listeners to "love their children. It's the only thing that counts." He was away at a religious retreat during the fire.
"Give us the strength to continue," he said, speaking of his wife and one 15-year-old daughter, who survived. They jumped from second story windows, the mother, Gayle Sassoon, to run across the street to a cousin's house to beg for help for her children before she collapsed, The Times said.
Both Gayle Sassoon and daughter Siporah were reported in critical condition at local hospitals where they are being treated for burns and smoke inhalation.
The fire was the deadliest in New York City in eight years. In March 2007, nine children and a woman from two families were killed by a fire in the Bronx, according to the Times.
Three girls: Eliane, 16; Rivkah, 11; and Sara, 6; and four boys: David, 12; Yeshua, 10; Moshe, 8; and Yaakob, were taken out by second story windows by firefighters but couldn't be saved. The children’s father was not at home at the time, according to the Times.
After the service, The Time said, a funeral procession drove to Kennedy International Airport. The children's coffins will be flown to Israel and buried in Har HaMenuchos cemetery in Jerusalem. The family moved to New York in order to be closer to Gayle Sassoon's large extended family.
The FDNY received a call about the fire at 3371 Bedford Avenue, near Avenue L at 12:23 a.m., according to CBS New York.
Fire officials said they believe the fire slowly burned in the kitchen for awhile before anybody noticed. When flames reached the stairwell, it spread quickly to the rest of the house preventing anyone from getting downstairs and cutting off the mother from her sleeping children, according to the Times.
“She valiantly tried, although she was badly burned, to get out and get help,” said New York Fire Commissioner Daniel A. Nigro at an early afternoon news conference in front of the destroyed home. “She was very brave.”
Mayor Bill DeBlasio and Midwood Assemblywoman Rodneyse Bichotte walked through the burnt two-story home with Nigro before speaking to reporters. "You can literally see what was a home for a large, strong family and now it’s wiped out, every room empty, burned and charred,” he said, according to the Times. “This is a tragedy that has very few examples to look at, it’s so painful, it’s so difficult.”
Hatzolah volunteers and 106 firefighters came to the scene to help, according to a statement released by Bichotte.
"My heart goes out to this devastated family," she said in the statement. "Such a horrific loss touches the entire community. We all mourn the tragedy in Midwood today and pray for the speedy recovery of the survivors."
JTA and Helen Chernikoff contributed to this report.