The Brooklyn father who lost seven of his eight children in a Shabbat evening home fire called his kids “a sacrifice” to the community.
Gabriel Sassoon sobbed as he tried to recite the names of his late children during a eulogy Sunday at a Jewish funeral home in the heavily Orthodox Borough Park section of Brooklyn, the New York Post reported.
“They all had faces of angels. Hashem knows how much I love them,” Sassoon said, according to the Post. “They were a burnt offering. … I lost everything in the fire. Seven pure sheep. Those are my seven children.”
He was out of town at a religious conference when the fire consumed his home shortly after midnight March 21. Officials have blamed an unattended hot plate warming Shabbat meals as the cause.
In an effort to avert a similar tragedy in this area, the Rockville Volunteer Fire
Department announced it plans to create educational material specifically designed for those who are Shabbat observant that will be handed out to area synagogues, said Deputy Fire Chief Lenny Chornock.
The fire department said it will visit individual homes to check smoke detectors and other potential fire hazards upon request, Chornock said.
About 1,000 people lined the street outside the Shomrei Hadas funeral home for the service, according to the Post. Inside, an overflowing crowd of mourners wailed for the lost children, who ranged in age from 5 to 16. On Monday, the bodies were buried in Jerusalem.
Sassoon’s wife, Gayle, and one of his daughters, Tziporah, 15, escaped the blaze by leaping from the house, but on Tuesday were fighting for their lives in the hospital, unaware of the seven deaths.
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.
Robert Katz, a Rockville resident and a consultant for the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, said that in a house fire of that magnitude, usually more than one thing goes wrong. Therefore, he cautioned that anything left burning while residents are away or asleep should be located far from anything that can catch fire.
He advised families to make sure their smoke detectors are working properly and that every member of the family knows exactly what to do in case of a fire. Homes should be equipped with fire extinguishers, he added.
Other safety considerations include making sure circuits aren’t overloaded and that a towel or any fabric that may be covering a pot lid not be anywhere near the fire element, Katz said.
It’s important that people immediately call their fire department rather than try and extinguish the flames themselves as they waste valuable time and may make the fire worse, he said.
Sometimes an observant person may be reluctant to use a telephone on Shabbat, but Katz stressed that it would be a sin not to call for help as doing so could be life-saving.
A hot plate, often the size of a cookie tray, is one of the least expensive ways to heat food and is plugged in throughout Shabbat, explained Rabbi Uri Topolosky, chair of the Beltway Vaad.
Alternatives include ovens that have a Shabbat mode, which enables the heat to be regulated overnight, he said. Also used are warming trays that are often built into a pull-out drawer.
While not caused by a device used to heat food, there was a house fire in Silver Spring on Yom Kippur night in 2006. The family was in synagogue when their house was destroyed after holiday candles that were on a window sill turned over.
-JTA News and Features contributed to this report