|Yesterday's Hachnasas Sefer Torah - R' Sassoon in center of picture|
In Chicago on Sunday, an Orthodox Jewish synagogue welcomed a Brooklyn rabbi who lost seven children in a house fire this year, dedicating seven Torahs, one for each child, to him on Father's Day.
West Rogers Park resident Andrew Glatz helped organize a procession of more than 800 men, women and children of the local Jewish community from his home to Ohel Shalom Torah Center on Sunday for the tribute to Rabbi Gabriel Sassoon, whose seven children died in March. Sassoon's wife and one daughter survived the blaze, which reportedly was started by a hot plate used for cooking in observance of the religious prohibition against lighting a flame on the Sabbath. At the time, Sassoon was away at a religious retreat.
Jewish faithful from throughout the Chicago community took turns inscribing the hundreds of thousands of characters in each handwritten scroll. Sassoon etched the final letters in each scroll before sharing his gratitude with the congregation, Glatz said.
"As a father myself, I don't know how any father could wake up in the morning let alone speak in front of a crowd," Glatz said. "This is fresh. It's not even a year yet. We're hoping that getting the community together to honor his children, that it would give him some comfort."
Though the event wasn't planned in conjunction with Father's Day, members of the synagogue who attended the speech learned that the date also had another sentimental meaning to Sassoon.
"Tonight, it came up that it was the birthday of his oldest daughter," said Rabbi Jack Meyer, of Brooklyn, who helped put together the event through a Brooklyn-based emergency relief and bereavement group called Misakim.
Glatz added: "If this could give him some solace, give him peace and some comfort, then that was the whole point — showing him that we love him and we love his family even though we never met him per se."
Meyer, who responded to the scene of Sassoon's home the night of the fire and assisted in organizing similar events back in New York, said Sunday's procession and ceremony was the first outside of the New York-area for Sassoon's family. It's also the first such ceremony Ohel Shalom has hosted for someone outside of the Chicago community, Glatz said.
Glatz said he hoped that the event held at Ohel Shalom, a Sephardic Jewish community in Rogers Park for about a decade, would inspire unity among the Jewish faithful across the globe.
"We're stepping up to get other communities to step up," Glatz said. "The message we hope the rabbi got was that we are one large community. It doesn't matter if you're from Jerusalem, Mumbai or New York. We in the global community feel that tragedy and feel that pain. That's the whole reason we're doing this today."
Despite the solemn message, the event had a lively and upbeat atmosphere. Outside the synagogue, children played in bounce houses, danced and took pictures with two local firetrucks. The synagogue also hosted a dinner for Sassoon, who didn't want to comment publicly, after the dedication ceremony.