YIR: Surfside Disaster Hits Home
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YIR: Surfside Disaster Hits Home

July 2021: The collapse of the 12-story Champlain Towers South building in Surfside Florida killed 100, leaving friends and family in Atlanta reeling.

The Surfside building collapsed in Miami Florida.
The Surfside building collapsed in Miami Florida.

The geographical distance between Atlanta and Miami, Fla. may be close to 700 miles, but the emotional distance between the two Jewish communities narrowed dramatically after the June 24 partial collapse of a 12-story beachfront condominium in the suburb of Surfside.

Relatives and friends of Atlantans were among the approximately 100 killed in the overnight disaster, as well as among those who miraculously survived.

While Jewish communities in Atlanta and around the world held their breaths in anticipation of the naming of the victims, authorities eventually reported that no survivors had been found. Seven members of Israel’s National Rescue Unit, who had arrived at the site three days after the Champlain Towers South collapsed to assist in trying to locate survivors, went home without finding any.

By then, Atlantans had heard both good news and bad. The bodies of close friends of Rabbi Yossi New, founding rabbi of Beth Tefillah and regional director of Chabad of Georgia, were among those eventually uncovered in piles of cement, steel and rubble. New had known Tzvi Ainsworth for more than 50 years, along with Tzvi’s wife, Ingrid or Itty.

Rabbi Yossi New’s friends, Tzvi and Itty Ainsworth, were among the victims.

Chabad of Cobb Rabbi Ephraim Silverman was a nephew of another woman who was killed in the tragedy.

The daughter of Atlanta criminal defense attorney Esther Panitch lost fellow Camp Judaea alumni, staff and best friends Deborah Berezdivin and Ilan Naibryf. Miriam had been staying in another part of the condo complex the night of the disaster.

On the other hand, there was good news, too. Former Atlantan Sara Nir lived with her two children in a ground-floor condo at Champlain Towers South. All three were able to evacuate the falling building safely.

Atlantan Esther Lubel’s sister and brother-in-law, who lived on the 10th floor of the ill-fated condo complex, also survived. Betty and Jimmy Coiffman had fortunately lived in the section of the building that didn’t collapse, although it was later demolished. Lubel said she had awakened at 3 a.m. and saw the news about the 1:30 a.m. disaster on her smartphone screen.

From that moment until 6 a.m., Lubel said she stayed on the phone with her eldest sister “to make sure she was okay.” The Coiffmans had rented the condo just two weeks before the collapse.

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