Ultra-Orthodox Jewish community holds funerals of seven siblings killed in New York blaze

New York Mayor Bill de Blasio at the house where the siblings died
New York Mayor Bill de Blasio at the house where the siblings died

An ultra-Orthodox Jewish community shattered by the deaths of seven siblings in a house fire held their funerals a day after a hot plate left on for the Sabbath is believed to have caused the blaze.

The bodies of the children from the Sassoon family, ages five to 16, were being sent to Israel after the New York funeral for a prompt burial.

The tragedy had some in Brooklyn’s Midwood neighbourhood reconsidering the practice of keeping hot plates on for the Sabbath, a common modern method of obeying tradition prohibiting use of fire on the holy day.

Yesterday’s service began with prayers in Hebrew, and shrieks could be heard through speakers that broadcast it to several hundred people who gathered inside and on the streets.

“They were so pure,” the children’s father, Gabi Sassoon, said during a eulogy. “My wife, she came out fighting.”

At their fire-gutted home, a vase of white roses sat in front of as a police officer stood guard and contractors boarded up windows with plywood.

The blaze killed three girls and four boys – all members of the neighbourhood’s tightknit community of ultra-Orthodox Jews.

Both the mother and a daughter – Gayle Sassoon and 14-year-old Siporah Sassoon - remained in critical condition.

Fire Commissioner Daniel Nigro, who broke down at one point as he spoke about the blaze, said it was the city’s worst in recent memory.

The Sassoons’ hot plate apparently malfunctioned, setting off flames that tore up the stairs, trapping the children in their second-floor bedrooms as they slept, investigators said.

Firefighters arrived in less than four minutes and discovered the badly burned and distraught mother pleading for help, officials said. When they broke in the door, they encountered a raging fire.

“I couldn’t help crying my heart out as I saw the house,” said Dalia Hen, 51, a Midwood neighbour. “It’s like our own children.”

Daniel Bar of Israel’s religion ministry said the children’s bodies will arrive in Israel later today. A time and location for the burials had not been immediately set.