Surfside is pulling together in the face of tragedy after a deadly building collapse — especially its tight-knit Jewish community
Surfside is pulling together in the face of tragedy after a deadly building collapse — especially its tight-knit Jewish community
Photo: AFP
Surfside is pulling together in the face of tragedy after a deadly building collapse — especially its tight-knit Jewish community

In face of Florida building tragedy, Jewish community unites

Surfside's 2,500-strong Jewish community tries to stay positive but frustration mounts as painstakingly slow search and rescue operation presses on and death toll climbs; 'As Jews, we believe heavily in miracles and never giving up,' says one local resident

AFP |
Published: 06.28.21, 19:28
The partial collapse of a multi-story residential building in the beachfront Florida town of Surfside has hit the area's Jewish community especially hard, but it is united in the face of tragedy, even as frustrations mount over the slow search for survivors.
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  • "We are a very tight community," Zalmi Duchman, a 41-year-old who lives a few blocks away from the disaster scene at the Champlain Towers complex, told AFP. "We know many of the family members who live in the building, or relatives."
    4 צפייה בגלריה
    Surfside is pulling together in the face of tragedy after a deadly building collapse — especially its tight-knit Jewish community
    Surfside is pulling together in the face of tragedy after a deadly building collapse — especially its tight-knit Jewish community
    Surfside is pulling together in the face of tragedy after a deadly building collapse — especially its tight-knit Jewish community
    (Photo: AFP)
    Duchman, who has lived in Surfside for 20 years after growing up in nearby Miami Beach, lent a helping hand Friday at a local community center, now a gathering point for those seeking information about 151 people still unaccounted for.
    "Something like this is just impossible to expect — you go to sleep at night and then..." Duchman said. "Obviously, it has hit us very hard, but there is still hope. As Jews, we believe heavily in miracles and never giving up, resilience, trying to stay positive in dark times."
    In Surfside, there are about 2,500 Jews — about half the town's population — and many of them are members of the Hasidic Chabad-Lubavitch movement, according to Israeli media.
    4 צפייה בגלריה
    Rabbi Yosef Galimidi (L) speaks with Surfside Mayor Charles Burkett near the site of a partially collapsed residential building in Surfside, near Miami Beach, Florida, U.S. June 27, 2021
    Rabbi Yosef Galimidi (L) speaks with Surfside Mayor Charles Burkett near the site of a partially collapsed residential building in Surfside, near Miami Beach, Florida, U.S. June 27, 2021
    Rabbi Yosef Galimidi (L) speaks with Surfside Mayor Charles Burkett near the site of a partially collapsed residential building in Surfside, near Miami Beach, Florida, U.S. June 27, 2021
    (Photo: Reuters)
    But Duchman says that number has surely grown since the eruption of the coronavirus pandemic, with many residents having children.
    In many homes in the area, the U.S. and Israeli flags hang in windows or on doors.
    On one balcony, a resident has put up a homemade banner reading "Surfside Strong" — a phrase often adopted after tragedies in the United States.
    Since the partial collapse of the building early Thursday, people have donated food, clothes, other supplies and toys at the community center or at the Shul, the local Jewish center.
    4 צפייה בגלריה
    A "Surfside Strong" sign hangs on a balcony as search and rescue operations continue at the site of the partially collapsed 12-story Champlain Towers South condo building
    A "Surfside Strong" sign hangs on a balcony as search and rescue operations continue at the site of the partially collapsed 12-story Champlain Towers South condo building
    A 'Surfside Strong' sign hangs on a balcony as search and rescue operations continue at the site of the partially collapsed 12-story Champlain Towers South condo building
    (Photo: AFP)
    The Shul is "really a pillar of the community," Duchman said.
    But faced with the possibility that the death toll could rise much higher, and the painstakingly slow search and rescue operation, some are getting anxious and frustrated.
    "Not enough is being done," said Mike Salberg, who came from New York after the accident. Five of his family members, including his parents, are unaccounted for.
    "I want answers," he said. "The families are sidelined. We're being told that they have the best crews but they don't have the ability and the capacity... 40 hours later, four dead."
    4 צפייה בגלריה
    Many in Surfside want answers about what happened at Champlain Towers
    Many in Surfside want answers about what happened at Champlain Towers
    Many in Surfside want answers about what happened at Champlain Towers
    (Photo: AFP)
    He said he hoped engineers sent to the site by Israel would be able to take part in the search.
    "The heat is rough — they're trapped. Hopefully, there is still hope. There is no question about it — there are survivors," Salberg said.
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