A horrific tragedy struck the Midwood community early Monday, as a fire tore through the Azan family home on E. 14th St. between Aves. S and T, killing the mother and three of her children.
The niftarim have been identified as Mrs. Aliza Azan, 39, a”h, and her children Moshe, 11, z”l; Yitzchak, 7, z”l; and Henrietta, 3, a”h.
The father, Yossi, and children Shilat, 16, and Daniel, 15, are in critical condition but are expected to survive.
Another son, Avraham, 13, as well as a cousin who was in the home, were treated for minor injuries and released.
The fire began shortly after 2:00 a.m. Monday on the first floor of the three-story home, caused by a lit menorah, according to the FDNY.
Avraham and the cousin, sleeping on the first floor, are believed to have been alerted to the fire by a beeping smoke alarm, said FDNY Commissioner Daniel Nigro. Neighbors were also alerted by the alarm and called 911.
Firefighters arriving at the scene less than three minutes later confronted a fast-moving fire that “met them at the front door,” said Nigro.
“It took very aggressive action by the firefighters, knowing there were people inside, to move their hose lines in to make their searches.”
The fire had traveled quickly up the stairs to the upper floors, where the deceased and critically-injured victims were sleeping. Mr. Azan was severely burned; he “acted very courageously,” helping to get Daniel and Shilat out of the home, said Nigro. Mr. Azan tried going back in to save the others, but was unable to.
He “tried desperately, and hopefully it didn’t cost him his life also,” said Nigro.
Mr. Azan is known to all in the community as manager of the hat department at The Hat Box men’s clothing store on Coney Island and Avenue O. He often sought to help people of limited means, offering discounts and credit. Neighbors and friends who spoke with Hamodia say the family is beloved by all who know them, and the Azan home is one of Torah, chesed and love for chachamim.
Mr. Azan “is such a good person – always happy,” said Yaakov Hazan, a family friend. “He is always running after mitzvot, asking everyone how they are doing, and going to extremes to help people.”
Mrs. Azan, a”h, was the daughter of, ybl”c, Harav Avraham Hamra, shlita, who served as the last chief rabbi of Damascus, from 1976-1994, when he immigrated to Israel. He is currently a rav in Holon.
Mr. Azan “has raised a home of bnei Torah, in which everyone has their priorities straight, and there is such chashivut for Torah and mitzvot,” said Hazan. “I was just in their home last Shabbat, when they were hosting a Rosh Yeshiva from Israel – there were divrei Torah and singing. He was offering food and serving everyone; in his own home, he acted like a servant.”
“This was a case of tzaddik v’ra lo,” continued Hazan. “The Sefer Hayashar says that when the community needs a kapparah, Hashem has to choose a righteous family – one that is raui lekach.”
Following news of the tragedy, communal organizations sprang into action to assist the family and the community.
Misaskim worked with the Medical Examiner’s office to ensure that the niftarim were released by Monday afternoon. In light of the wide media coverage of the tragedy, extra care was taken to ensure that the release itself took place respectfully, away from press photography, Rabbi Yanky Meyer of Misaskim told Hamodia.
Several of the Azan children had been classmates of the Sassoon children who were also niftar in a tragic fire, in March 2015. Rabbi Meyer said that he received a text message from Mr. Gaby Sassoon on Monday asking if there was anything he could do to help.
As news of the tragedy spread, Chai Lifeline added extra staff to its 24-hour crisis hotline to handle additional calls coming in from distressed members of the community.
“We’ve already gotten hundreds of calls, not only from the area, but from all over,” Zahava Farbman, associate project director for Chai Lifeline’s crisis intervention, trauma and bereavement services, told Hamodia. “It’s very scary and confusing and, of course, sad. We’re doing what we can to help them deal with it.”
In addition to directing broader efforts regarding the tragedy, Mrs. Farbman has been working directly with the Azan family since she was called to scene and then to the hospital in the early hours of Monday morning.
Conference calls were scheduled with rabbeim, rabbonim and other community leaders to offer guidance as to how to counsel those in need of comfort. A community-wide event was in the process of being planned as well.
Yeshiva Ateret Torah, where the Azan children attended, is closed for its Chanukah break until Wednesday, but Chai Lifeline is preparing programs to help classmates and others in the school cope with the situation.
Mrs. Farbman stressed the importance of “validating” the feelings of children in their reactions to the situation.
“It’s important to be there for them,” she said. “Don’t expect any particular reaction – in a certain sense, anything is normal.”
Audrey Grazi, co-director of the Mental Health Resourses division of Sepharic Bikur Cholim, was also on the scene of the fire, offering assistance to the many who flocked to the Azan home.
“We tried to help people gain clarity about their feelings and helped a lot of the family out with some of the logistics,” she told Hamodia. “We are all in shock; there is not much to say in such a situation. The community is very close, and when something like this happens, everybody is affected by it.”
The levayah is scheduled for 7:00 p.m. Monday at Shevet Achim, on Ave. T between East 7th and East 8th Streets. The aronos will then be flown to Eretz Yisrael, where a levayah will be held at the Holon cemetery at 9:30 a.m. Wednesday. Shiva will be observed at 106 Arlozorov Street in Holon.
Readers are asked to daven for the refuah sheleima of Yosef ben Ahuva Masuda, Shilat bas Aliza and Daniel ben Aliza, b’soch sh’ar cholei Yisrael.
A GoFundMe page has been set up, under the auspices of Rabbi David Ozeri, rav of Yad Yosef Torah Center, to assist the Azan family with obtaining a new home, medical care and many other expenses. Without any source of income for the foreseeable future, the goal of this campaign is to help ease their burden as much as possible. Donations can be made at https://www.gofundme.com/official-azan-family-fire-fund