The small Shevet Achim synagogue on Avenue T near East 7th Street is a humble structure that masks a majestic spiritual presence in Brooklyn and those who pray the daily services within its walls clearly remember Yosef Azan, 45, a regular in the minyan with a similar mien.
On Monday night, Yosef’s fellow worshipers and their wives gathered at the synagogue with tears streaming down their cheeks to pay their respects to his deceased wife and their three young children, as he lay struggling for life in a burn unit in Staten Island. The departed were then to be flown for burial in Israel.
“He’s so connected to the community,” said one member of the minyan who spoke with JewishPress.com but asked that his name not be used. “He is a strong part of the minyan, a very religious, really hard-working guy.”
The night before — on the sixth light of Hanukkah — flames were seen shooting out of the family’s second-floor windows in their rented home at 1945 East 14th Street near Avenue T at around 2:20 am as they slept in their beds. A neighbor who spotted the blaze called the fire department but in the three minutes it took firefighters to arrive, flames already reached the front door.
“This is a terrible tragedy, not just for this community, but for our city,” FDNY Commissioner Daniel Nigro said in a statement. “At this time of the year, when these things strike, it just tears your heart out for the family and everybody that knows them.”
Investigators said the cause of the fire appears to have been accidental. Smoke alarms were working, and two of the boys may have been alerted to the fire — and their lives may have been saved — as a result.
Aliza Azan, a’h, 39 and three of her young children — Moshe, z’l, 11, Yitzhak, z’l, 7, and Henrietta, a’h, 3 — all died in the blaze.
Yosef Azan, 45, was badly burned and is now in critical condition. The couple’s 15-year-old son and a 16-year-old cousin were also critically injured. All three are on respirators in the burn unit at Staten Island University Hospital.
Eight others were also hurt, including two boys ages 12 and 13 with minor injuries and six firefighters who were injured while battling the blaze.
Yosef, already burned, was injured more severely when he tried desperately to go back into the house to save his wife and the other children; but by then it was too late.
There is horrific, tragic irony here. The Azan family, deeply religious Jews, immigrated to Brooklyn from Israel — as did the members of another family who also suffered a similar tragedy less than two years ago.
Sourcese confirmed that some of the Azan children were classmates with those of the Sassoon family, z’l, who passed away in a similar, tragic house fire in March 2015.
The public is asked to pray for the complete healing and recovery of Shilat bat Louza Aliza (16), Daniel ben Louza Aliza (15) and Yosef ben Ahuva Masouda (45), all of whom are in critical condition.
Baruch Dayan HaEmet.