NEW YORK - The father of seven Orthodox Jewish children killed in a Brooklyn house fire told hundreds of mourners at their funeral on Sunday that the only way he can survive the tragedy was "complete, utter and total surrender" to his religious beliefs.
The grieving man, Gabriel Sassoon, spoke at a packed funeral chapel where white curtains separated hundreds of men wearing black hats and yarmulkes from women in modest dress.
His eulogy for the seven children, ages 5 to 16, was broadcast to an even bigger crowd outside. Many of the mourners rocked back and forth in reverence as he spoke.
"My children, they were so pure," said Sassoon, looking at the seven small, wooden coffins at the Shomrei Hadas Chapels. The coffins were to be loaded into seven hearses headed for John F. Kennedy International Airport, then flown to Israel for burial.
Only an eighth child, 15-year-old Siporah, and Sassoon's wife, Gayle Sassoon, 45, survived the blaze, which the Fire Department blamed on a malfunctioning hot plate that observant Jews use to heat food without violating the Sabbath rules. Both are hospitalized in critical condition.
"I don't know how I could have everything and now I have nothing," said Sassoon, who was at a religious conference when the flames broke out at his home on Saturday.
"There's only one way to survive this: It's complete, utter and total surrender," he wailed.
Around the corner from the charred home, the Fire Department handed out pamphlets titled "Fire Safety for Jewish Observances" as well as smoke alarms and batteries. An online version of the Fire Department pamphlet about dangers during the Sabbath and Jewish holidays tops the list with the warning: "Stay in the kitchen - don't leave cooking food unattended."
Orthodox Jews closely adhere to strict rules that define rest and work on the Sabbath, which lasts from sundown Friday to sundown Saturday. Prohibitions include turning on and off electric appliances.