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Community Making Sense of 7 Senseless Deaths

By Sarina Roffé

mournersNo father should have to eulogize his child. Gabriel Sassoon had to eulogize 7 of his 8 children.

“Why seven? Seven beautiful lilies,” cried their anguished father, Gabriel Sassoon, during his eulogy. “So pure. So pure.” Thousands of mourners, including the chief rabbi of Israel, attended the emotional service in Jerusalem, as anguished cries came from the crowds.

The caskets, small and large, were lined up in a row, their bodies washed and prepared for burial in white shrouds.

Words cannot express the horrific and devastating loss of the seven angelic children of Gabriel and Gayle Sassoon on Saturday, March 21, 2015. The children were laid to rest in the western hills of Jerusalem, near their former home in Har Nof. They had moved to Midwood in 2013.

A fire had spread quickly through their Midwood home, taking the seven children – four boys and three girls – to heaven. The loss devastated the family and the community, as the news spread as quickly as the fire had, quickly, throughout the world, making international headlines.

Gayle (Gila bat Siporah Frances) Jemal Sassoon, daughter of Fran and Freddie Jemal, and her 14-eyar-old daughter Siporah (bat Gila), jumped from a window and barely survived the fire and were hospitalized in critical condition.  Gaby Sassoon was attending a religious conference in Manhattan and not at home for Shabbat. He did not learn of the fire and the death of his children until the Shabbat ended.

Seven Torah observant children perished. The daughters were: Eliane bat Gila, 16, ‘A”H; Rivkah bat Gila, 11, ‘A”H; and Sara bat Gila, 6, ‘A”H. The sons were: David ben Gila, 12, ‘A”H; Yeshua ben Gila,’10, A”H; Moshe ben Gila, 8, ‘A”H; and Ya’akob ben Gila, 5, ‘A”H.

The Brooklyn funeral took place at Shomrei Hadas Chapels on Sunday, March 22 to mourn the loss of these seven angels, students at Yeshivah Ateret Torah. The loss of so many children from one family had mourners shaking in disbelief.

“I want to ask my children forgiveness. I did my best and my wife did her best. Please, everybody, love your child, love your children, love others’ children… understand them, don’t negate them,” he said.

At the end of the service, a shofar was blown as is Sephardic minhag.The bodies were flown to Israel for burial at Har Hamenuhot, the Mount of Rest, near Har Nof. The chief Rabbi of Israel attended the funeral.

In the meantime, community groups and social service organizations joined hands to help the community understand and come to grips with this tragedy and support the family.

They All Had Faces of Angels


Gayle Sassoon with her children

By Frank Rosario, Kevin Sheehan and Bruce Golding

He wept as he recited the names, saying they are all “angels” now.

A Brooklyn father who suffered the unthinkable loss of seven children when fire ripped through his home brought thousands of mourners to tears Sunday during their funeral.

“They all had faces of angels. Hashem [God] knows how much I love them,” said a sobbing Gabriel Sassoon.

“People forget what’s important in life. My children were unbelievable. They were the best.

“But the truth is, every child is the best. Every child is the most beautiful child there is in the world. Every child is like that.”

The Orthodox Jewish dad broke down as he recited the names of his dead children, ages 5 to 16.

He called them a “sacrifice to the community.”

Continue reading They All Had Faces of Angels

VIDEO: Simchat Torah in Brooklyn Heights

Brooklyn Daily Eagle – Oct. 17, 2014

Remsen St. became a block party on Thursday night as members of the Brooklyn Heights Synagogue and Congregation B’nai Avraham spilled out onto the street to dance with Torah scrolls. They were celebrating Simchat Torah (or Joy of Torah). Simchat Torah marks the cyclical tradition of reciting the closing verses of Deuteronomy, which is the fifth book of Moses, and then starting over with the opening verses of Genesis. Rabbi Serge Lippe of the Brooklyn Heights Synagogue is pictured as he recites the closing verses of Deuteronomy during Simchat Torah. The New York Klezmer Ensemble accompanied the dancers at Brooklyn Heights Synagogue, which is Reform branch. By contrast, at the Orthodox Congregation B’nai Avraham, the men and women dance separately, and sing without musical instruments. Either way, everyone rejoices in the Torah.

Enjoy this video by Dipti Kumar:

Pedi-Sukkah Parade Peddles Through NY



Brooklyn Daily Eagle, Oct. 7 2014

pedi-sukkohsNEW YORK — In this photo provided by Chabad.org, 10 Chabad-Lubavitch teens on “pedi-sukkahs” ride down Fifth Avenue in New York on Monday. The pedi-sukkahs, are modified pedi-cabs with a Sukkah — a hut-like structure covered with bamboo — attached in the back. The goal of the parade is to create awareness for the upcoming Jewish holiday of Sukkot, a seven day, biblically mandated holiday ends after nightfall on Oct. 15. The pedi-sukkahs were designed by Brooklyn teen Levi Duchman.

Luna Park Set to Host Large Sukkot Spectacle

By Francesca Norsen-Tate, Religion Editor – Brooklyn Daily Eagle 10/7

This group of children enjoyed last year's Sukkot at Luna Park. Photo courtesy of Luna Park

This group of children enjoyed last year’s Sukkot at Luna Park. Photo courtesy of Luna Park

Jews around Brooklyn find innovative, fun ways of celebrating the joyful festivals. This year, Brooklyn’s famous amusement park at Coney Island will be transformed into a Sukkot Spectacle.

Sukkot is the festival of booths. Taking place in autumn, Sukkot celebrates trust in God and the gathering of community. Luna Park in Coney Island is preparing to host a Sukkot Spectacle for one of the most joyous holidays in the Jewish religion.

Sukkot begins at sundown on Wednesday, Oct. 8, and lasts until Oct. 15. From Oct. 12 to 14, Luna Park will be transformed into a Sukkot Spectacle, complete with rides and games for the entire family, and will include a huge Sukkah, featuring kosher food from HMS Glatt Kosher Caterers.

Luna Park is home to the newest roller coaster to be built in Coney Island, the Thunderbolt, as well as the historic Cyclone roller coaster, which celebrated its 87th anniversary this year. In addition, the park features more than 50 attractions that cater to every age level – from the classic Wild Tea Party to the new pendulum-swinging Luna 360.

Kosher Meets Hipster

American Millennials follow Jewish dietary laws at nearly twice the rate of Baby Boomers, perhaps finding the ancient laws fit well with contemporary concerns about sustainability.

gotmatzoOn July 11, 1883, Rabbi Isaac Mayer Wise held a historic gathering in Cincinnati: the ordination of the very first class of rabbis of Reform Judaism, a modernized version of the faith.

But Wise’s lesser known contribution to Jewish American culture lies in the four-course spread served at the banquet afterwards: little-neck clams on the half shell, salade of shrimp, soft-shell crab, and frog legs in cream sauce.Thrilling as it was offensive, the dinner that went down in history as “The Highland House Affair” ushered Judaism into modern American culture—aside from a symbolic omission of pork, everything from the air of gourmet French cuisine to the sweetbreads screamed rejection of Jewish dietary law and Old World culture.

130 years later, some parts of the Jewish community are going through another modernizing shift—but this time, in trendy pop-up restaurants and artisanal craft-food production. With their embrace of sustainable—and slightly hipster—food culture, Millennial Jews are shaping a blossoming culinary movement, and bringing non-Jews along with them.

Continue reading Kosher Meets Hipster

Obsessions, From Street Food to Rooftops

exerted from NYTimes, Oct 3, 2014

Mano Hirsch at his shop in Brighton Beach, Brooklyn, is featured in Laura Silver’s book, “Knish: In Search of the Jewish Soul Food.” Credit Courtesy of Pamela Hirsch

Mano Hirsch at his shop in Brighton Beach, Brooklyn, is featured in Laura Silver’s book, “Knish: In Search of the Jewish Soul Food.” Credit Courtesy of Pamela Hirsch

In Knish: In Search of the Jewish Soul Food(Brandeis University Press), Ms. Silver, an accomplished food writer inspired by the replacement of Mrs. Stahl’s knishery in Brighton Beach, Brooklyn, by a Subway sandwich shop, explores the origins and evolution of the “pillow of filling tucked into a skin of dough.”

Her book brims with nostalgia (including the lyrics to the Samuel J. Tilden High School alma mater), a recipe for Mrs. Stahl’s signature potato pie, a guide to where to still get a good knish and a bow to the beloved comestible’s universality (think empanadas, samosas, gyoza and calzones).

“So ingrained was the knish in New York life that its name doubled as a litmus test for authentic New Yorker status,” Ms. Silver writes. “Mispronunciation” — the “k” in “knish” is not silent — “could trigger the same response as a cold knish: disappointment, revulsion and a jabbing sense of missed opportunity. Or perhaps worse. An icy knish can at least be reheated.”

In interviews with former customers of Gabila’s and Shatzkin’s and Yonah Schimmel’s, Ms. Silver writes, “the more I mentioned knishes to Jews of a certain age, the more stories I discovered lodged just beneath the skin.”


Jewish, Muslim Communities Break Bread Together in Brooklyn

Published in the Brooklyn Eagle – August 5, 2014

Dinner Brings Together Communities for Ramadan And ‘The Three Weeks’ of Bein HaMeitzarim

Members of Brooklyn’s Jewish and Muslim communities broke bread together at a unique multi-cultural dinner on Thursday, July 24 at Congregation Mount Sinai.

The Ramadan Iftar dinner coincided with the Jewish period of Bein HaMeitzarim (The Three Weeks) and gave participants the chance to get to know each other and explore a religious tradition that may have been unfamiliar to them. The event featured music and dancing by Jewish and Turkish performers.

The importance of brotherhood and learning about each other’s traditions was the evening’s theme.

Continue reading Jewish, Muslim Communities Break Bread Together in Brooklyn

Growing up in the Williamsburg Housing Projects

by Joe Dorinson

I grew up in the Williamsburg Housing Projects and lived there from 1939 to 1960. To qualify for residence in this FDR crafted New Deal experiment in public housing, you had to be poor.

That didn’t bother my lifelong friends, Irving, Ivan, Mike, Vinny, Bernie, Richie, Leslie, Barbara, Howie and me because we were all poor. Fineshmecker snobbery did not appeal and we thought everyone was in the same boat. Not so. Most of my friends went to religous after-school programs in Talmud Torahs. Some, like Irving, attended Torah Vidas Yeshiva.

My secular left-wing family sent me to shule zeks und dreisik (School 36) where I learned Yiddishkeit: language, history, literature, culture, and core values. En route to school, we were often accosted by young thugs, mostly Irish, who threatened to beat the hell out of us and sometimes their fists matched their words. Every Halloween brought mini-pogroms to our neighborhood as those “dear hearts and gentile people” would fill socks with chalk and bean every Jewish child they could find on that hateful day. Lucky for me with my turned up nose, I looked Irish and escaped their wrath. When they yelled “Christ killers!” at us, I cringed in fear and reacted with indignation.

I never killed anyone except for a few mosquitoes and some flies. Besides, I later learned that Jesus was originally a member of our tribe who rose from a humble carpenter’s job and made it “big” in a new religion. Symbolized as “the Prince of Peace,” he certainly would not have approved of the pogroms waged in his name to avenge his death at the hands those cruel Romans.

So one day, when I decided to play hookey, i.e. stay home from shule situated on Manhattan Avenue, four blocks from our apartment at 165 Scholes Street, a miracle occurred. The usual assemblage of pogromchiks gathered to harass my friends. And a hero–no, a heroine emerged to defend our faith. She was a feisty, well-built girl named Rochelle Zannet. With a devastating right cross, she bloodied the nose of their gang leader. His band dissolved in shame. They never bothered us again. Who needed Superman or Shimshon h’agibber (mighty Samson) when we had a Jewish Wonder Woman? Rochelle succumbed to illness a few years ago according to her sister Alice Kalischman, but in “this heart of mine,” a Brooklyn Jewish female champion lives–forever young and tough as nails.

Coney Island Life

Submitted by Roberta Ann Afflitto

At a time when I was experiencing loss and sadness, I moved to Coney Island. It took me a while to make friends, but when I did – every day became an adventure. We would walk down Surf Avenue, moving to the uplifting sound of the carousel. We’d ride it and attempt to catch the golden ring to earn another ride. The aromas of grilling hot dogs and French fries made us quicken our steps to reach Nathan’s. The crunch of that first bite gave our tastebuds a salty, yummy treat. Then on to play games such as skeetball.

Continue reading Coney Island Life