Early Saturday morning in the Midwood section of Brooklyn, a fire caused by a malfunctioning hot plate in use for Shabbat tore through the Sassoon family’s home, killing seven children and leaving the eighth in critical condition, along with the children’s mother, Gayle Sassoon. It was the deadliest fire in New York City since 2007. The father, Gabriel Sassoon, had been at a Shabbaton retreat when the fire broke out, and didn’t learn about the deaths for several hours.
The funeral Sunday was a brief and solemn affair; thousands of people filled the streets of Borough Park, mourning alongside Sassoon, whose wife and eldest daughter, Siporah, 15, remain hospitalized in critical condition. He buried the seven children today in Jerusalem.
The New York Times has a detailed portrait of Gabriel and Gayle Sassoon, Syrian Jews who met in Israel and whose lives and family are very much enmeshed within the close-knit community. Though the circumstances prompting it are tragic, the article offers a fascinating look at the geographic reach of the community: “He was the son of a grandee in a Syrian Jewish outpost in Kobe, Japan, who attended a Canadian international school and spoke fluent Japanese; she was the daughter of a family with a comfortable life in southern Brooklyn, home to a thriving enclave of more than 75,000 Syrian Jews.”
They left Israel two years ago with their eight children, and moved into Gayle’s childhood home, in an area heavily populated with Syrian Jews. Two cousins live across the street, and the mothers would spend time together as the children played. According to New York City Fire Commissioner Daniel A. Nigro, Gayle jumped from her second-floor window to escape the flames and ran across the street to get help, banging on her cousin’s door. He told the Times he didn’t recognize her when he opened the door. Neighbors said they were awakened by the sounds of children screaming.
Related: Road From Damascus