NEW YORK - An ultra-Orthodox Jewish community shattered by the deaths of seven siblings in a house fire carried out their funerals Sunday, a day after a hot plate left on for the Sabbath is believed to have sparked the fire that killed them.
The bodies of the children from the Sassoon family, ages 5 to 16, were being sent to Israel after the funeral for a prompt burial. Flames engulfed their two-story, brick-and-wood home in Brooklyn's Midwood neighborhood early Saturday, likely after a hot plate left on a kitchen counter set off the fire that trapped the children and badly injured their mother and another sibling, investigators said.
The service at the Shomrei Hadas funeral home began with prayers in Hebrew, accompanied by the wailing voices of mourners. They could be heard through speakers that broadcast the rite to hundreds of people gathered outside on the streets in traditional black robes and flat-brimmed hats.
"They were so pure," Gabriel Sassoon said of his children during a eulogy he delivered through sobs. "My wife, she came out fighting."
His wife and a daughter - Gayle Sassoon and 14-year-old Siporah Sassoon - remained in critical condition on respirators.
"My children were unbelievable. They were the best," he said.
Earlier at the family's fire-gutted home on Bedford Avenue, a police officer stood guard as contractors boarded up windows with plywood.
The blaze killed three girls and four boys - all members of the neighborhood's community of ultra-Orthodox Jews. Authorities identified the victims as girls Eliane, 16; Rivkah, 11; and Sara, 6; and boys David, 12; Yeshua, 10; Moshe, 8; and Yaakob, 5.
"Eliane was a spirited child. Rivkah, she had so much joy," their father said. Rivkah "gave joy to everybody," he said. "And David, he was so fun." Yeshua was "always trying to make others happy," as was Yaakob, Sassoon said.
At the time of the fire, Sassoon, a religious education instructor, was in Manhattan at a Shabbaton, an educational retreat.