Thousands of shocked and tearful mourners packed Avenue T in the Flatbush section of Brooklyn on Monday evening for the levaya (funeral procession) for four members of the Azan family who perished in a house fire during the wee hours of the morning on Monday. The victims of the massive blaze that engulfed the residential structure on East 14th Street between Avenue S and T were Aliza (Luza), 40, a’h and three of her children – Moshe 11, a’h Yitzchak 7, a’h and Henrietta 3, a’h. Their bodies were then flown to Israel for burial on Tuesday morning in Holon.
The throngs of mourners congregated near the Halabi synagogue of Jews from Aleppo and in accordance with the halachos of Rosh Chodesh no eulogies were made. Family members and others in attendance read the Kaddish prayer and recited verses from Tehillim (the book of Psalms).
Joseph Azan, 45, the father of the family remains in critical condition at the burn unit of Staten Island University Hospital. The couple’s daughter, Shilat, 16, and their son, Daniel, 15 are in serious condition.
Mr. Azan leapt into the flames in an attempt to save his wife and children but was badly burned himself and is currently fighting for his life in the burn unit at Staten Island Hospital.
The fire department released a statement late Monday saying fire marshals determined the blaze to be accidental, caused by an “unattended lit menorah.”
Neighbors said the family kept the menorah in a living room window throughout the eight-day holiday of Chanukah.
FDNY Commissioner Daniel Nigro said that Joseph “was severely burned trying to get back to save the rest of his family, the ones he didn’t already save. We believe that he acted very courageously and tried desperately.”
“Hopefully it didn’t cost his life also, but it may.”
When the fire broke out just before 2:30 a.m. Monday morning, Avraham Azan, 13, a surviving son who was injured in the blaze, and a cousin who was sleeping over, were woken up by a fire alarm, and managed to escape unharmed. Both had been sleeping on the ground floor of the house.
Firefighters arrived at the Azan home less than three minutes after a neighbor reported the blaze. But by the time they got there, the flames met them at the home’s front door.
According to an INN report, after rushing outside, Joseph Azan went back into the burning house, made his way through the smoke and flames to the second floor, and helped his daughter Shilat and son Daniel, who had been sleeping on the second floor, jump to safety from a window. Shilat suffered a broken pelvis from the jump, and all three suffered burns and smoke inhalation.
Earlier this year, the Azan family celebrated their son Avraham’s Bar Mitzvah in Israel – the last time the family’s relatives there saw the Azan family before the tragedy.
The Azans are Syrian Jews who came to the United States from Israel about 15 years ago, the New York Times reported. Aliza Azan’s father, Avraham Hamra, is the former chief rabbi of the Syrian Jews and moved to Israel more than 10 years ago, according to the New York Daily News. Her brother is a leader in Brooklyn’s Syrian Jewish community.
The Azan family’s loss was not the first to strike the borough: less than three years ago a fire ravaged the home of the Sassoon family, also Syrian Jews, claiming the lives of seven children.
Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams observed a moment of silence just after 5 PM on Monday in memory of Aliza Azan and her three children, ages eleven, seven and three, as he lit the menorah at Brooklyn Borough Hall, according to a Ynet report.
City Councilman Chaim Deutsch called on city residents of all religions to make sure never to leave holiday decorations or candles unattended, whether they are electrical or live flames.
“Before you go to sleep each night be sure that tree lights are unplugged and candles are extinguished,” said Deutsch, who also stressed the importance of having a fire safety plan and having working smoke detectors on every level of every residence.
State Senator Simcha Felder announced a joint plan with the Red Cross and the Boro Park Jewish Community Council this afternoon that will install free smoke detectors in the homes of area residents.
“Reminding people during Chanukah about the inherent dangers of open flames and arming them with the vital knowledge necessary to prevent fires is the first step, but detecting a fire early to ensure everyone gets out safely is of vital importance,” said Felder.