Brooklyn, NY – Eight days after the tragic Chanukah fire that took the life of four members of the same family and critically injured three others, devastated residents of the Jewish community are struggling to cope with grief and trauma as the survivors fight on in area hospitals.
Both Yosi Azan and his 15 year old son Daniel have been transferred to Weill Cornell Medical Center, according to family rabbi Rabbi David Ozeri, while 16 year old Shilat Azan remains at Staten Island University Hospital with multiple broken bones.
All three victims remain sedated and are on respirators in addition to being treated for burns sustained in the three alarm blaze. The only immediate family member to escape injury, 13 year old Avraham Azan is returning from Israel, where his mother Aliza and his siblings Moshe,Yitzchak and Henriette were buried, and will be staying with an aunt and uncle.
Well known throughout Brooklyn’s Jewish community, Aliza Azan was an art teacher at Yeshiva Lev Torah and her husband Yosi is a popular manager at The Hat Box on Coney Island Avenue.
“People know him as an extremely pleasant human being who always had Torah on his lips and wanted to do chesed for everybody,” Rabbi Ozeri told VIN News. “People are coming into the store crying.”
While not a man of financial means, Yosi Azan was known to help people in his own way and without any fanfare. A regular at the local night kollel who went out of his way for others, Azan was also instrumental in perpetuating Torah through radio programs, said Rabbi Ozeri.
Azan’s Facebook page has been inundated with well wishes written in Hebrew since the day of the fire.
“We cannot digest this news,” wrote Shmeul Saan on December 18th, the day of the fatal fire. “We are all praying for you and your family to get well and to heal from this pain that is too great to bear. In the merit of Chanukah and Rosh Chodesh may Hashem send you a complete and speedy recovery and the strength to go on through the pain of these terrible losses that our hearts simply cannot bear.”
Another post written on December 23rd in honor of Azan’s birthday by Joe Cohen read “Mazel tov Yosi, a dear man who is loved. I wish you a complete recovery, that you should return to your life and to know that everyone, everyone, everyone here is with you always, in our hearts our souls and our prayers. We love you!!!!”
Learned rabbis were frequent guests at the couple’s Sheepshead Bay home, invited by the Azans to be role models for their six children.
“Their home was a ‘bais va’ad l’chachamim,’” said Rabbi Ozeri. “They weren’t wealthy people at all, but their home was always open to everybody.”
Both the Azans were outstanding parents, noted Rabbi Ozeri.
“Aliza was a strong woman whose father was the chief rabbi of Syria and didn’t leave the country until every last Jew was out,” said Rabbi Ozeri. “She was raised in such a home and their children were raised that way as well. They were extremely pleasant and weren’t part of the rat race.”
When it came time to register their eldest child in school, the couple was asked about the origin of their daughter Shilat’s name.
“They explained that it came from the pasuk ‘Shivisi Hashem L’negdi Tamid,’” remarked Rabbi Ozeri. “They took the first letter of each word and that was how they got Shilat.”
Lizette Azari, who taught with Aliza Azan in Yeshiva Lev Torah, said that Azan had been her student many years ago in Syria and that she was thrilled to work with her when the school opened up a girls’ division and needed to hire an art teacher.
“Morah Aliza taught from Pre-1A to fourth grade,” said Azari. “You wouldn’t believe the projects she did with the girls every week. She was an angel. You wouldn’t believe the smile she always had on her face.”
Despite her own artistic talents, Azan, who taught on Tuesdays, had an appreciative eye for her students’ work.
“Just before Chanukah she came in and she was looking at the artwork we had in the hallway,” said Azari. “The girls had made nice projects, chanukiyot. She sat down next to the bulletin board and she told me ‘I can’t believe the girls did such an amazing job.’”
Another teacher passing by asked Azan if there would be art again next Tuesday.
“Of course we were going to have art the next week, but then the fire broke out Monday night…,” said Azari.
The grief at Lev Torah was unimaginable said Azari. A decision was made to tell only the older students what had happened, but some of the younger girls had heard the news and were struggling to cope.
“One girl in Pre 1A came up to me and she was crying,” said Azari. “She told me Morah Aliza had died and she told me she needed to draw a picture of a fire for her. Another girl told me that she needed to draw an open window with a fire. Shema yisroel, what do you do?”
Even students in the nursery class have been affected, asking when three year old Henriette is coming back to school.
Like so many other members of the Lev Torah family, Azari said she is broken hearted.
“Everywhere I look I see her artwork,” said Azari. “She is my angel. I see her everywhere.”
An official crowdfunding campaign to benefit the family started one week ago by Rabbi David Ozeri has raised more than $534,000 in seven days. Rabbi Ozeri hopes to raise one million dollars in the short term and noted that the campaign’s fundraising expenses are being covered by private donors so that every penny contributed can go directly to the Azan family.
“A very large chunk of that will be used for medical expenses that will not be covered by insurance, including plastic surgery,” said Rabbi Ozeri. “The Azans did not own a home and had no renter’s insurance. They were simple people who were ‘sameach b’chelko.’ They had no savings, nothing. Everything is gone down to the last spoon.”
To participate in the fundraising campaign go to https://www.gofundme.com/official-azan-family-fire. The public is also asked to daven for a refuah sheleima for Yosef ben Ahuva Masuda, Shilat Ahuva bas Aliza and Daniel ben Aliza.