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Midwood Orthodox Community Grieves Death of 7 Children in Sabbath Fire

By  Janon Fisher Gwynne Hogan and Nikhita Venugopal | March 22, 2015 3:51pm | Updated on March 22, 2015 6:08pm

 Gabriel and Gayle Sassoon's children —Elaine, Rivkah, Sara, David, Yeshua, Moshe, and Yaakob — perished in the fire, FDNY said.
Funeral for children who died in fatal Midwood fire
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MIDWOOD — Hundreds from the Orthodox Jewish community gathered Sunday at a Brooklyn funeral home to mourn seven children who died after a fire sparked by an unattended Sabbath hot plate ripped through their home.

The children of Gayle and Gabriel Sassoon — Elaine, 16, Rivkah, 11, Sara, 8, David, 12, Yeshua, 10, Moshe, 8, and Yaakob, 5 — perished Saturday morning from the 12:30 a.m. blaze at 3371 Bedford Ave., police and fire officials said.

The streets in front of Shomrei Hadas Chapels, at 14th Avenue and 38th Street, were filled with family and friends who had come to pay their respects to the family.

"There’s nothing to say. There’s only one way to survive this, and it’s complete and total, utter surrender," the father, who goes by Gabi, could be heard saying over a public address system that was piped out to the crowd.

"My children were unbelievable. They were the best. But the truth is that every child is the best," the heartbroken father said. "Please everyone love your child."

In his eulogies for each child, he switched between English and Yiddish, describing Yeshua as "so joyful and creative" and Rivkah had "so much joy."

Some of those gathered Sunday afternoon did not know the family, but those who did described them as a welcome presence.

"This is an incredible family," said Shaindy Kleinman, who met the mother in Israel seven years ago. 

"Very giving loving people," she added. "So much goodness."

The tragedy stunned neighbors and the Orthodox community as a whole.

"It's very scary. It's mind-boggling to me. Your whole family is wiped out in an instant," said Mark Vago, 37, a neighbor on the quiet tree-lined street. "I don't think you can make sense [of this]. They were like sacrificial lambs. We have to learn a lesson."

An unidentified 14-year-old daughter and Gayle, the mother, were able to leap from a second-story window. The teenager was taken to Staten Island University Hospital and the mom was taken to Jacobi Medical Center in The Bronx. Both were in critical condition.

The father was away at a conference at the time of the blaze.

There were no working smoke detectors on the first or second floor of the house to warn the family, FDNY Commissioner Daniel Nigro said on Saturday.

As workmen pulled the charred debris from the home on the mild, sunny Sunday morning, people — some weeping — from the Orthodox community around the city looked over the destruction for themselves and paid respects to the family.

By all accounts, the family, who had moved from Israel to Brooklyn about two years ago, was a tight-knit and loving group.

"The kids were wonderful and Gayle was a very special girl," said one woman, who did not want to give her name.

Many in the neighborhood called for an end to using hot plates to warm food on the Sabbath, an Orthodox Jewish tradition stemming from religious restrictions against using certain devices.

"I know a lot of people that do [keep hot plates on overnight] and they shouldn't," Deborah Sclar, 42, who lives in the neighborhood, said. "Almost all Orthodox families use it. It's their way of eating warm food on the Sabbath."

Assemblyman Dov Hikind, who represents the district were the fatal fire occurred, said he called his daughter, Deena, who has six children ranging in age from 1 to 13, and told her to stop using a hot plate.

"This is a wake-up call. I'm not saying to people, 'Get rid of your hot plate or throw them out.' I'm saying it's worth taking a look in light of what happened here," Hikind said. "The rules are the rules — no one is talking about changing those rules."