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Gabriel Sassoon, father who lost 7 children in Brooklyn house fire, remembers each one in funeral service

Gabi Sassoon, center right and father of the

Gabi Sassoon, center right and father of the seven victims of a Brooklyn fire, is hugged by fellow mourners following funeral services for his children in Brooklyn on Sunday March 22, 2015. Credit: Theodore Parisienne

The father who lost seven of his eight children in a Brooklyn house fire remembered each of them for the things that made them unique, then broke down in tears at their funeral service Sunday.

Gabriel Sassoon recalled Eliane, 16, as "a spirited child," while Rivkah, 11, "gave joy to everybody." The wailing overflow crowd drowned out his words for his youngest daughter, Sara, 6. Of his sons, Sassoon said David, 12, was "fun"; Yeshua, 10, was "joyful and creative"; Moshe, 8, "was always beaming"; and Yaakob, 5, "just wanted everyone to be happy."

The children had "faces of angels" and were "so pure," Sassoon said at the Shomrei Hadas Chapels on 14th Avenue in Borough Park. Then words failed him and he turned to his faith.

"There's nothing to say," Sassoon said. "There's only one way to survive this. It's complete and total utter surrender. . . . Our wishes are tiny compared to what HaShem [God] has planned."

The children are to be buried in Israel, where the family had lived.

A faulty electrical food-warming plate started the fire Saturday that tore through their Midwood home after midnight as the children slept, FDNY officials said. The plates are often used in Orthodox Jewish homes to keep food warm during the Sabbath.

Sassoon's wife, Gayle, and their 15-year-old daughter, Tzipora, were critically injured but survived by jumping from a second-floor window. They remained in burn units at Jacobi Medical Center in the Bronx and Staten Island University Hospital North Sunday night, police said.

Gabriel Sassoon was attending a religious conference when the fire occurred. NYPD officials said they didn't reach him until Saturday afternoon.

"He left his family at home, and he came back and seven kids are not here," said Assemb. Dov Hikind (D-Brooklyn), one of several public officials who attended the funeral services. "You stand there watching those little caskets, and the big caskets, and you try to make sense of it and you can't."

Mourners packed the narrow funeral home and spilled into the streets, where a man's voice recited prayers in Hebrew over a loudspeaker from inside the building.

Men and women sobbed throughout the service, wailing as the children's father eulogized them.

"There's a bigger plan," Gabriel Sassoon said. "We don't know who these children are, we don't know what they saved us from."

Rabbi David Ozeri, who spoke after Sassoon, said "an earthquake has hit the Jewish world," and that the community in Israel mourns with the family.

As the service ended, mourners filled the street, surrounding the black funeral cars. Also attending were Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams, New York City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito and Public Advocate Letitia James.

"How do you go on?" Hikind said. "How does anybody go on? You lose one child -- it is the most painful thing in the world, unimaginable, right?"

And yet Sassoon was the one providing comfort, Hikind said.

"This man started the weekend with a family, hours later he doesn't have a family and he is talking about giving us strength," Hikind said. "He's speaking while there are seven boxes next to him. Seven children right there -- just absolutely stunning."


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