Seven Jewish siblings who were killed in a devastating New York house fire over the weekend were being laid to rest Monday after being flown to Israel for burial.
Dozens of mourners, including the chief rabbi of Israel, attended the emotional service, which was repeatedly interrupted by anguished cries.
"Why seven?" Seven beautiful lilies," their father, Gabriel Sasson, cried out during a eulogy. "So pure. So pure."
The bodies of the Sassoon siblings, ages 5 to 16, were flown to Israel overnight from New York and whisked away to Jerusalem in a convoy escorted by police.
The bodies, wrapped in shrouds, were displayed on stretchers for a memorial service in a room crowded with dozens of mourners. After the service, they were to be buried at Jerusalem's main cemetery.
David Lau, Israel's chief rabbi for Ashkenazi — or European — Jews, described the fire as an unspeakable tragedy and urged the family to remain strong. "Each one is a flower in God's garden," he said.
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Rabbi Abraham Lazerman, chairman of the school system in which the children studied in Israel before moving to Brooklyn, said that not only Jews or those who observe the commandments, were shaken by the disaster, but also the non-Jewish world.
He noted that parents and students at the Talmud Torah in Jerusalem where the chidren studied were struggling with the tragedy.
"The girl students (in the school in which the girls studied) are walking around in shock," he said. "They are unable to continue their daily routine, even though it's been two years since the family left, but the mother kept in constant contact with them. They were expecting to return and raise them in Israel and to derive much joy from them."
He turned to the bodies of the children and said, "You are ascending. They are awaiting you by the chair of honor. The holy presence will receive you with open arms because you are an atonement for the Jewish people."
Regarding the mother who is hospitalized, Lazerman called to the heavens for God to save her so that she may have a long, fulfilling and good life. "Call on the heavens by the Holy One, blessed be He, to have mercy and pity on the daughter, and that God should give supernatural strength to the father, Gabriel Sassoon, and give him strength as he gives us strength.
The fire has shattered the ultra-Orthodox Jewish community in the Midwood neighborhood of Brooklyn. Investigators believe it was caused when a hot plate, left on for the Jewish Sabbath, malfunctioned, setting off flames that incinerated the stairs of their home, trapping the children in their second-floor bedrooms as they slept.
The blaze killed three girls and four boys. Both the mother and a daughter — Gayle Sassoon and 14-year-old Siporah Sassoon — remain in critical condition.
The tragedy had some reconsidering the practice of keeping hot plates on for the Sabbath, a common modern method of obeying tradition prohibiting the use of fire on the holy day.
Israeli media have said the family lived in Jerusalem before moving to New York two years ago.
Alon Edri, who identified himself as a rabbi and relative of the family, said it was significant for the religious family to be buried in the Holy Land.
"We believe that being buried in Israel is important because all of your sins are then absolved," he said.