Seven children of the Sassoon family were being brought to rest Sunday afternoon, and Democratic New York State Assemblyman for Brooklyn, Dov Hikind, expressed his feelings about what many people in the Orthodox community in Brooklyn and around the world were experiencing.
Hikind said he didn't know the family directly, but knew friends of theirs, and said that “they were people who were dedicated to the family, to the community, to G-d. These were amazing and wonderful people and I cannot remember a similar tragedy. To lose a child is a terrible thing, but to lose seven children in one moment, to start Shabbat happy and then in one single moment it ends, is so beyond comprehension. It's not a tragedy, it's a disaster.”
An apparent short circuit in the Shabbat hot plate spread the blaze quickly through the family's 80-year-old Flatbush home which was largely made of wood. The circumstances of the deaths were a sign that extra precautions were needed, especially when using Shabbat hot plates, said Hikind.
“These hotplates are used all over the Jewish world,” said Hikind. “This is something we need to look at carefully.That was the cause of this fire, and we had another fire a few years ago in which a mother and daughter died because of a hotplate as well. My daughter uses a hotplate and I have always been very nervous about it, after Shabbat I called my daughter and told her not to use it anymore. We want hot food for Shabbat of course, but we have to also find ways to protect our children.”
In addition, a further lesson to all is to ensure that their smoke detectors were working properly. The family “didn't have smoke alarms. Everyone needs them, and needs to make sure they work. People put in a battery and think they last forever,” and that is not the case, said Hikind.
In the end, though, “as believing Jews we look to heave and ask why. What went on here was unfathomable, it was not a tragedy but a disaster and not just for the Jewish community, it is being felt by all. What do you say to the father, to the children who will see that their friends are no longer there? What will the teachers say to the children?”
Hikind had no easy answers – or answers of any kind. “I will leave it to the rabbis to answer, but it's not something we can just move on from. It's something that we have to contemplate and ask what went wrong – maybe it's the divisiveness, the hatred. It's not just a statistic, it's something much deeper. To lose seven kids in one family is beyond words.”