Father says seven children who died in NYC fire were 'so pure'

Reuters News
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Posted: Mar 22, 2015 3:03 PM

By Sebastien Malo

NEW YORK (Reuters) - The father of seven Orthodox Jewish children killed in a Brooklyn house fire told hundreds of mourners at their funeral on Sunday that the only way he can survive the tragedy was "complete, utter and total surrender" to his religious beliefs.

The grieving man, Gabriel Sassoon, spoke at a packed funeral chapel where white curtains separated hundreds of men wearing black hats and yarmulkes from women in modest dress.

His eulogy for the seven children, ages 5 to 16, was broadcast to an even bigger crowd outside. Many of the mourners rocked back and forth in reverence as he spoke.

"My children, they were so pure," said Sassoon, looking at the seven coffins at the Shomrei Hadas Chapels. be loaded into seven hearses headed for John F. Kennedy International flown to Israel for burial.

Only an eighth child, 15-year-old Siporah, and S wife, Gayle Sassoon, 45, survived the blaze, which the Fire Department blamed on a malfunctioning hot plate that observant Jews use to heat food without violating the Sabbath rules. Both are critical condition.

"I don't know how I could have everything and now I have nothing," said Sassoon, who was at a religious conference when the flames broke out at his home around 12:30 a.m. on Saturday.

"There's only one way to survive this: It's complete, utter and total surrender," he wailed.

Around the corner from the charred home, the Fire Department handed out pamphlets titled "Fire Safety for Jewish Observances" as well as smoke alarms and batteries.

Orthodox Jews closely adhere to strict rules that define rest and work on the Sabbath, which lasts from sundown Friday to sundown Saturday. Prohibitions include turning on and off electric appliances, said state Assemblyman Dov Hikind, who represents the heavily Jewish district.

"A lot of people use these hot plates to keep food warm for the next day," Hikind said. "They put them on Friday and they are left on for the entire Sabbath, 25 hours."

An online version of the about dangers during the Sabbath and Jewish holidays tops the list with the warning: "Stay in the kitchen - don't leave cooking food unattended."

Hikind said he uses a water-filled urn that he heats up before the Sabbath starts.

"I called my own daughter, who has six kids, to tell her to stop using that hot plate," he said.

It was the city's fourth deadly fire in 15 years sparked by hot plates or use of ritual candles, according to the Jewish Forward newspaper, including a 2000 fire in Williamsburg that killed the granddaugther of the Satmar Grand Rabbi Moshe Teitelbaum and her 5-month old baby.

Hikind said that scam artists immediately launched a phony fundraising scheme in the Sassoon family's name, and he warned followers on Twitter not to contribute.

"People's heart aches - Jew and non-Jew alike. They want to help. We don't want you to waste your money," he later told Reuters.

Although smoke alarms are required on every floor of a home, according to a Fire Department spokesman, the New York Times reported the Sassoon home only had a smoke alarm in .

The Fire Department did not immediately respond to questions about the home's smoke alarms or about previous deadly fires tied to religious observances.

(This version of the story corrects surname to "Sassoon" throughout)

(Editing by Barbara Goldberg and Leslie Adler)