Mother and Children Killed in Brooklyn Hanukkah Fire Laid to Rest in Israel

Hundreds attend the funeral, including Shas Minister Arye Dery ■ The mother grew up in Holon in a prominent Sephardic family ■ The fire that killed them may have been sparked by Hanukkah candles

Mourners at the funeral of the family who died in the Sheepshead Bay fire, Holon, December 20, 2017
Tomer Applebaum

Hundreds of mourners attended the funeral on Wednesday morning of a woman and three children who died in a fire in their home in Brooklyn believed to have been caused by a Hanukkah menorah.

The bodies of Aliza Azan, 39, her two sons and daughter – Moshe, 11; Yitzah, 7; and Henrietta, 3 -- were flown into Israel overnight. Her husband, Yossi, remains in critical condition in a New York hospital, along with two other children. Only one child, 13-year-old Avraham, was able to attend the funeral.

The funeral was held in Holon, a suburb of Tel Aviv, where Aliza (known by her family as “Luza”) grew up. The ceremony was not far from the celebration hall where she and her husband were married.

Among those eulogizing Aliza and her three children was Minister of Interior Arye Dery, who also heads Shas, the religious Mizrahi party.

“We have no words to describe the calamity that has befallen our family,” said Yossi’s aunt, who asked that her name not be published. “Just like that, a family has been destroyed. “

Mourners at the funeral of the family who died in the Sheepshead Bay fire, Holon, December 20, 2017
Tomer Applebaum

Yossi’s six aunts, his late father’s sisters, huddled together after the burial ceremony, trying to make sense of what had happened. “We still don’t really know,” said another sister. “Was the fire caused by the Hanukkah candles or by an electrical short? Whatever happened, we are simply devastated.”

A few meters away, mourners gathered around the freshly dug graves – one in which Aliza and her daughter were buried together, and the other in which the two boys were buried. Some paid their respects by placing stones on the burial spots, as is common in Jewish tradition, Others wept, while still other prayed.

The service coincided with the final day of the eight-day Hanukkah holiday, and for that reason, the number of eulogies delivered was kept to a minimum. “We will continue to eulogize them during the shiva,” said an aunt, referring to the seven-day mourning period that follows the funeral.

Aliza came from a prominent family of Syrian Jews, her father Avraham Hamra a well-known rabbi in the community. Several of her siblings, like her, had moved to the United States over the years. Yossi, her husband, comes from a family of Moroccan Jews, most of whom reside in the ultra-Orthodox city of Bnei Brak. His brother flew to New York two days ago to be with him, and his mother and sisters were scheduled to join them later today.

“We are simply horrified,” said Yaakov Buchris, a friend of Yossi’s family after the burial service, “and in utter disbelief. How can something like this happen?”

Mourners at the funeral of the family who died in the Sheepshead Bay fire, Holon, December 20, 2017
Tomer Applebaum

The fire that killed Aliza and her three children erupted on Monday night in their three-story home in the Sheepshead Bay section of Brooklyn. The cause was suspected to be an oil-burning menorah whose glass cups had broken under heat pressure.

After fire fighters succeeded in extinguishing the flames, Aliza and her three children were found dead on the second floor, where they had been sleeping. The fire broke out at about 2 a.m. Yossi, who was severely burned trying to save his wife and children, helped a teenage daughter and son jump from the window to escape the flames. Both of them are suffering from broken bones. Two other children and a cousin who was visiting managed to escape from a side door on the first floor with lighter injuries.

The entire Azan family had visited Israel two years ago to celebrate the bar mitzvah of one of their children.

Yossi’s father, Avraham Daniel Azan, was one of 10 siblings. “Two of Yossi’s children were named after him – Avraham and Daniel,” noted one of his sisters. “Miraculously, those two children were saved from the flames.”

Several prominent rabbis from Israel’s Mizrahi community were in attendance at the funeral.