Photo Credit: (Diaspora Affairs Ministry)
Diaspora Affairs Minister Nachman Shai and the IDF search-and-rescue delegation that arrived on Sunday, June 27, 2021, in Surfside, Florida, to aid in recovery efforts at the building collapse.

It happened last Thursday. I was in the midst of celebrating my grandson’s wedding when I heard about a 12 story condo collapsing in Surfside, an upscale suburb of Miami Beach. The magnitude of that disaster did not hit me until I got back from Lakewood a couple of days ago where I was able to watch footage of it on the television news.

My reaction was not dissimilar to the attack on the World Trade Center on 9/11.  Although the circumstances were radically different, the images were eerily similar. A huge segment of a condo building that housed perhaps 1000s of people suddenly collapsed and fell to the ground – with people still in them.

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Rescue operations commenced immediately. Much the way they did on 9/11. All while the danger to those rescuers of being crushed to death themselves by falling or shifting debris was and still is quite real. Despite that, the search goes on – uninterrupted with rescuers desperate to find survivors 5 days after the collapse. Over 3 million pounds of fallen concrete has already been removed from the site.

As of today there are 149 people (many of whom are Jewish and observant) that lived in that condo building still unaccounted for. Only 11 bodies have been recovered so far.

I cannot image the pain and suffering close relatives of the missing must be going through – not knowing whether their loved ones have somehow survived or have been crushed to death. In one case I know of, people right here in Chicago are sitting Shiva for their parents who were among the 11 victims whose bodies were recovered.  They live just a half block from one of my children!

Although what happened in Surfside was not the result of a terrorist attack as it was against the Twin Towers on 9/11 – there will nonetheless be some big time investigations about the cause of the collapse, and who was in any way responsible for it. My guess is that there will be a lot of blame to be shared for this tragedy. I believe the investigation has already begun using some of the same people that investigated the Twin Tower collapse.

At this early juncture, it’s difficult to place any kind of silver lining on this event. People are still suffering the anxiety of not knowing whether their loved ones are dead or alive. There is no sliver lining for them. But I believe that a Kiddush HaShem should be made public. There are two of them I’d like to highlight.

First is the fact that whenever tragedy of this type happens anywhere in the world, you will find an Israeli rescue team in the thick of the rescue effort. They are currently in Surfside working side by side with local rescue teams as well as teams from Mexico.  Israelis are known experts in these kinds of rescue operations. And freely offer it to the world without even being asked. That is a Kiddush HaShem. One that for a change has been acknowledged by the mainstream media in several reports over the last few days. (That has not always been the case. The media seems to mostly talk about Israel in terms of mistreating Palestinians.)

The second Kiddush HaShem is about the many acts of kindness being done by the observant Jewish community – detailed in the Miami Herald. One of which is personal. It is about a Mendel Segal, a Lubavitcher Chasid who spent many days living in our home during his adolescence. Including attendance at one of our Pesach Seders. Without getting into details it was because of a very difficult family situation.

Despite being raised under difficult conditions, he has become quite successful both an entrepreneur and as a human being. He opened up Mendel’s Backyard Barbeque, a restaurant in Surfside that has become very popular. From the Miami Herald, here is the rest of the story:

Mendel’s Backyard BBQ, a Kosher barbecue restaurant one block from the shul, is offering free-of-charge Shabbat dinner to anyone — Jewish or not — impacted by the condo collapse.

Maria Raquel, the restaurant’s event coordinator, said 90 people responded that they plan to attend. Forty others have ordered Mendel’s food, Raquel said in a phone interview while delivering those free dinners directly to the Grand Beach Hotel, where displaced families were relocated to Friday.

Those families who choose to dine at Mendel’s will be treated to tables overflowing with Jewish-American staples like brisket, roasted chicken, mashed potatoes, salmon, chicken soup, gefilte fish — and of course, challah and grape juice, to mark the Shabbat meal.

Making this even more amazing is the fact that his business suffered losses during COVID as did just about all restaurants. That did not deter him from his kindness.

Needless to say, my wife and I are very proud that we had anything at all to do with Mendel’s upbringing. He is now married with children of his own. We actually surprised him by showing up last winter (2020 ) unannounced at his restaurant just before COVID hit.  Something he really appreciated. As did we about how he welcomed us. We could sure use a lot more Mendels in the world. God bless him.

{Reposted from the author’s blog}

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Harry Maryles runs the blog "Emes Ve-Emunah" which focuses on current events and issues that effect the Jewish world in general and Orthodoxy in particular. It discuses Hashkafa and news events of the day - from a Centrist perspctive and a philosphy of Torah U'Mada. He can be reached at hmaryles@yahoo.com.