'Jewish Unity, Strength is My Consolation'

Gabriel Sassoon mourns his seven children in a heartrending letter, asks Jewish people to take a good deed upon themselves in their merit.

Tova Dvorin ,

Sassoon family children laid to rest in Jerusalem
Sassoon family children laid to rest in Jerusalem
Yonatan Sindel/Flash 90

Bereaved father Gabriel Sassoon penned a heartrending letter published in Yedioth Aharonot on Friday, describing the grieving process one week after his seven children were killed in a fire that spread through their Brooklyn home. 

"I really have nothing to say, silence is the message appropriate here," he began. "I have no words to describe the pain."

"People ask me: How do I have the energy to deal with the situation?" he added. "It comes down to the fact that I have a great love for God, and as there is with a relationship between people that can improve over time, you can improve your relationship with God over time."

Sassoon related that his mother, Elian, after whom he named his oldest child, died when he was 16 years old. He was left alone in Japan with his siblings, after his family had fled from Syria before the second World War; he had no family there. 

Afterwards, he recounted, he left for Jerusalem to study Torah and understand life; while he was only meant to stay for a month, he eventually decided to stay on a permanent basis. "I began to understand the greatness of our tradition," he said.

Sassoon added that he stayed in Jerusalem as a yeshiva (Torah academy - ed.) student and began to appreciate the world of his father, a scholar in Aleppo. He noted that the disconnect between father and son, son and father in the contemporary Jewish world saddens him. 

As such, he noted, "the main joy of life I had was learning Torah with my children. This created a deep connection between me and the children, and the entire family."

"My wife and I, we were scrupulous about the education of our children, and my wife is very devoted to the development of good midot [character traits - ed.], while maintaining personal modesty," he continued. "We worked for our children's education out of joy and love, and that's what made them so noble."

"All my kids were kind, modest, and did not talk badly about others," he noted. Speaking of his children, he said "they always did their best to help others, and had a zest for life."

He then eulogized each child in turn. 

"My oldest daughter, Elian, 16, was diligent in every area of her life, particularly in her relationships; she was always happy for others," he said. "13-year-old Rivka was full of life, and it was always important for her to make other people happy." 

"12-year-old David was gentle, and he had the intelligence of an adult," he continued. "He was worried about his mother all the time."

"The 10-year-old Yehoshua was a creative child and was the center of attention all the time," he added. "Then there was 8-year-old Moshe, a musical child, who never stopped smiling. Studies did not come easily to him, but he always pushed himself to succeed."

"7-year-old Sarah - everyone loved her innocence," he continued. "5-year-old Yaakov was a 'clown' of the family. Full of confidence."

Sassoon then recounted his perspective of events, including his being notified by police officers at a Manhattan Torah Shabbaton (weekend conference - ed.) last Saturday of the tragedy, the shock of the news, and the grieving process. He noted his amazement and gratitude at the unity of the Jewish people behind him and his family as they prepared for the funeral, stating that it moved him. 

Sassoon urged the Jewish people to capitalize on that unity.

"What I'd like to ask the people of Israel at this time, is that everyone look deep into himself - everyone knows himself and his good and bad points - and take upon himself to strengthen a weak point," he concluded. "Whether that's to improve his behavior toward other people, to keep Shabbat, or to keep the laws of family purity - it is very individual." 

"This will be my consolation."