A horrifying house fire took place just blocks away from my Brooklyn home. Early on Shabbat morning, March 21st, a fire raced through a house on Bedford Avenue and Avenue L. Seven children in this Orthodox Jewish family died, while one sibling and the mother received serious burns and other wounds. The fire is said to have been started by a malfunctioning hot plate, keeping food warm during Shabbat. The house had only one working smoke detector.

I have passed by this house so many times, either by driving or walking or biking. I have lived in this neighborhood since 1971, moving here when I was not quite seven years old, and it is located half a block away from the public elementary school I attended, PS 193. One of my childhood friends, Joe, lived on this street.

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Perhaps it seems a bit cold for me to start this essay by focusing on the house, but in a way it is easier to approach this terrible event by looking first at the building. But more fearsome, much more upsetting, is the loss of life. The Fire Department is stating that this is the worst loss of life in a residential fire in New York City in the past seven years. And this was not in a poorly maintained house, a house torched for arson, a building left derelict and rotting. No, this was a comfortable home, seemingly well kept. But there was only one working fire alarm.


My family and I stopped by the street but the Police and Fire Departments had blocked it off, for their investigation. A handful of neighborhood people stood around, peering sadly toward the stricken house. Ordinarily Bedford Avenue is a lively, major thoroughfare. It sees foot and car traffic constantly. Not today, on this block.

Seven children dead and one severely hurt. Mother in poor shape, and father away for a work event. How do we fathom this? It is almost inconceivable.

A few years ago, about seven or eight minutes north by car and also on Bedford Avenue, there was a fire in a row house. A few people died in that fire as well. I drove by that building a number of times, on the way to go shopping. I remember how I saw the house cordoned off for a while, but months later you could still see the damaged building. It has since been repaired, but I can still pick it out upon looking carefully for it. Time goes by and people still will recall where a tragedy took place, and these two houses, both sites of deadly infernos, serve as very sobering, very humbling reminders of how fragile our lives can be.

Bedford Avenue is the longest street in Brooklyn, New York, and more than ten miles long. It bends in certain sections because it is a very old road. It runs through several neighborhoods as it travels north-south. It is home to several schools-- elementary level, high school, a large public college (Brooklyn College); parks and playgrounds; houses of worship including Jewish and Christian sites; businesses, non-profits and service facilities, and many homes. There are large apartment buildings as well as private homes. Today once again it is tinged with great sadness due to a family's huge loss.



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