Honoring the victims of the Surfside building collapse one year later

Remembering those whose lives were lost.

Honoring+the+victims+of+the+Surfside+building+collapse+one+year+later

AFP via Getty Images

By Tzali Reicher, Rochel Horowitz, Mordechai Lightstone and Menachem Posner

During the early-morning hours of June 24, 2021, while most residents were asleep, Champlain Towers South, a 12-story beachfront condominium in Surfside, Fla., partially collapsed, leaving more than 100 residents and guests missing beneath the rubble.

In the hours and days that followed, the world was both united in grief for those who perished and galvanized into action for those who might be saved, as desperate search and rescue efforts began. When the efforts came to an end on June 26—more than a month later—98 people had been declared dead. Four people were rescued from the rubble in the days after the collapse, but one died of injuries shortly after arriving at the hospital

(Comprehensive news coverage and articles about the tragedy and the Surfside Jewish community can be found at a special section here.)

The following are obituaries of some of the victims, which Chabad.org published a year ago.

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Anat Cohen at The Sheldon


May the memories of all who lost their lives be a blessing.

Tzvi Ainsworth, 68, and Itty Ainsworth, 66: Devoted Parents and Chabad Community Pillars

Tzvi and Itty Ainsworth, far left and far right.
Tzvi and Itty Ainsworth, far left and far right.

Modest and dignified, Tzvi and Itty Ainsworth were beloved by all who knew them, and were noted for their generous hospitality and devotion towards helping others in need. Friends note how Tzvi Ainsworth would arrive each day without fail at the Chabad center in Double Bay, Australia, tefillin in hand, and would assist people in performing the mitzvah. In their quiet and unassuming manner, the Ainsworths touched many lives with their sincere desire to spread goodness and kindness to those around them. They were identified on Monday, July 5, as victims of the Champlain Towers South building collapse in Surfside, Fla.

Tzvi Ainsworth was visiting family in Montreal, where he was introduced to Itty Fellig more than four decades ago. The two married and settled in his native Sydney, Australia. In recent years, the Ainsworths moved to Florida, where several of their adult children had settled. There, they doted on their grandchildren and enjoyed spending time with many of their extended family members.

Leah Berger, a longtime family friend of the Ainsworths, told Chabad.org that the couple was loved by all and served as a source of strength for those around them. Having spent a few months with the Ainsworths in Israel recently, she was a firsthand witness of their love and dedication towards one another, and their strong sense of belief and trust in G‑d. “They were always laughing and joking together,” said Berger. “They had a hilarious sense of humor.”

“Every person she encountered, ever in her life, became her friend. Everyone was treated as equals,” wrote her daughter Chana Wasserman in a Mother’s Day blog post. “The guy at the laundromat, the guy working at the fruit market. … I know I will never be able to match my mother’s pure enthusiasm for life but it’s inspiring to watch,” wrote Wasserman.

Though Itty Ainsworth suffered from chronic pain, her condition didn’t hold her back from spreading her warmth and love with those she met. A strong proponent of positive thinking, she constantly looked at the bright side of life celebrating life’s small joys. “At times when she was struggling herself, she was giving others strength,” said Berger. “Everyone who knew Itty felt like her best friend.”

“Tzvi and Itty’s children and grandchildren were their world,” said Berger. Even as the days wore on since the tower’s collapse, their children told news reporters that they were holding tightly to the faith that their parents were still alive. We are believers, sons of believers; we believe in miracles, we believe in G‑d,” they said.

“And that’s exactly what their mother would say,” said Berger.

The Ainsworths’ son and daughter-in-law welcomed a daughter into the world on June 24, the day of the collapse.

Tzvi and Itty Ainsworth are survived by their children: Mendy Ainsworth; Dovy Ainsworth; Shmuly Ainsworth; Zalman Ainsworth; Nussen Ainsworth, Chana Wasserman, Levi Ainsworth, and many grandchildren.

Tzvi Ainsworth is also survived by his parents, David and Yehudit Ainsworth, and by his siblings: Esther Feiglin of Melbourne; Devora Moss of Sydney; Shoshana Deitz of Sydney.

Itty Ainsworth is also survived by her mother, Miriam Fellig, and by her siblings: Rabbi Yaakov Fellig of Coconut Grove, Fla.; Hershy Fellig of Montreal; Mendy Fellig of Miami; Chana Silverman of Hallandale, Fla.; Goldie Tennenhaus of Hallandale, Fla.; Shulamis Lurie of Hallandale, Fla.; Shneur Zalman Fellig, of Miami; Shlomo Fellig of Miami; Ouli Fellig of Miami.

The funeral took place Tuesday in New York, passing Chabad-Lubavitch World Headquarters at 770 Eastern Parkway in Brooklyn, followed by interment at Old Montefiore Cemetery in Queens.


Michael Altman, 50: Loving Father and Accountant

Michael Altman
Michael Altman
The penthouse floor apartment in Champlain Towers South had been in his family for almost four decades by the time Michael Altman moved in back in 2015. Michael was one of the earlier victims of the building’s devastating collapse identified by recovery teams.

Born in Costa Rica, Michael moved to the United States when he was a toddler. He was an accountant by trade, and was remembered by his son Nicholas as a fighter with a keen sense of humor.

“Always smiling, he was very fun and loved to tell jokes,” Nicholas Altman told the Miami Herald. “He conquered a lot of obstacles in his life, and always came out on top. He always inspired my brother and I to be successful in life.”

Michael is survived by his sons Nicholas and Jeffrey, and his parents Alan and Anita Altman.

“He was a great father, and a great son to my grandparents,” said Nicholas.

Deborah Berezdivin, 21: Student and Volunteer

Deborah Berezdivin and her parents, Jeff and Clara.
Deborah Berezdivin and her parents, Jeff and Clara.

Friends describe 21-year-old Deborah Berezdivin as an “old soul,” passionate about friendship, art, conversation, life, and Jewish observance. A native of Puerto Rico, she was in Florida with her boyfriend, Ilan Naibryf, attending the funeral of a family friend who had died of COVID. She was identified as a victim of the Champlain Tower collapse on July 9.

Mushka Lipskier, co-director of Chabad at Tulane Undergrad, where Berezdivin had been an architecture student, describes her as being “super kind and warm to people around her.”

On her first day at Tulane, Berezdivin and her parents, Jeff and Clara, visited the Chabad House and requested a mezuzah for her dorm room.

Throughout her time in Tulane, Berezdivin attended Shabbat at Chabad on a weekly basis, lighting candles and enjoying the company of her fellow Jews, especially the many Spanish-speakers among them, whom Lipskier describes as a “family unit.”

According to Rabbi Mendel Zarchi, director of Chabad of Puerto Rico, her paternal grandparents are among the founders of Jewish life in the territory, steeped in Jewish tradition, values, and generosity. On her mother’s side, her grandparents are pillars of Judaism in their home country of Costa Rica.

An active volunteer, she would often be found at Chabad on Thursday nights and Fridays, baking challah, preparing salads, and plating food for as many as 300 students who would show up on a Friday night.

Just before the onset of the COVID lockdowns, she and her friend Rebecca Lubin were active in arranging an intergenerational event connecting local Holocaust survivors with students, in tandem with Chabad and the local JCC. The event never took place, and Berezdivin soon transferred to GWU in the fall of 2020.

Yet, even after she left Tulane, the two continued to study Torah with Lipskier over Zoom.

Dr. Brad Cohen, 51: Orthopedic Surgeon and Devoted Torah Student

Dr. Brad Cohen
Dr. Brad Cohen

A gaping hole was torn in thousands of hearts after news spread that Dr. Brad Cohen was missing in the piles of rubble in the Surfside condo collapse. An orthopedic surgeon in North Miami and Miami Beach, Cohen was spending time with his brother, Dr. Gary Cohen, in a condominium on the 11th floor of Champlain Towers South at the time of the collapse. Dr. Brad Cohen was identified as a victim of the tragedy on July 16. His brother was identified a week earlier.

In addition to his loving family and grateful patients, Cohen was treasured by the Miami Jewish community. He was said to have loved nothing more than to share his Torah studies with others, refining his understanding through hearing others’ perspectives.

“It all began one day in the bank 25 years ago,” recalled Rabbi Yaakov Saacks, who directs the Jewish Chai Center in Dix Hills, N.Y., where Cohen grew up. “His mother, Deborah, whom I had never met before, came over to me and told me that her son Brad was finishing medical school in Cincinnati. During that time, he had befriended an Orthodox medical student, she said, and was interested in deepening his Jewish knowledge and observance.”

Brad soon became a regular participant in Saacks’s classes and programs. As his appreciation for Shabbat grew, he began spending every Shabbat in the Saacks home, drinking in the tranquility of the weekly holiday and enhancing his understanding of Jewish family life.

“He always asked great questions in class,” says Saacks. “He loved learning. Even as he was spending the lion’s share of his waking hours doing clinical rotations, he carved out time for Torah study. With audio cassettes and CDs, he made sure that his daily commute to and from the hospital were productively spent on Torah.”

When he married his wife, Soraya, Cohen established a fully observant home, passing on his passion for Judaism to his two children, Avi and Elisheva. In time, his passion for Judaism spread to his parents, Morton and Deborah Cohen, and to his elder brother, Gary, a physiatrist who relocated to Alabama, living in Birmingham and practicing in the Tuscaloosa VA Medical Center.

The family came to national attention when 12-year-old Elisheva Cohen was seen standing near the site of the tragedy in Surfside late one night reading Psalms on her phone when Surfside mayor Charles Burkett came over to her.

“I had seen this little girl before, and I know because we had talked,” the mayor later shared. “She was sitting in a chair by herself with nobody around her, looking at her phone, and I knelt down and I asked her, so what are you doing? Are you OK? She was reading a Jewish prayer to herself, sitting at the site where one of her parents presumably is. And that really brought it home to me. I am going to find her, and I am going to tell her that we are all here for her.”

Dr. Gary Cohen, 58, Dedicated Physician and Torah Student

Gary and Mindy Cohen
Gary and Mindy Cohen

The tight-knit Jewish community of Birmingham, Ala., has been united in grief upon learning that Dr. Gary (Tzvi Nosson Hakohen) Cohen had died under the piles of rubble in the Surfside condominium collapse.

A consummate student of Torah, he loved nothing more than to share his studies with others, refining his understanding through hearing others’ perspectives.

A physiatrist who was originally from Dix Hills, N.Y., he had relocated to Alabama, living in Birmingham and practicing in the Tuscaloosa VA Medical Center.

Inspired by his younger brother Brad, as well as the rabbis and congregants at Chabad of Alabama, he had embraced more and more Jewish practice, all the while deepening his knowledge and understanding of Torah.

“In recent years, Judaism has taken an increasingly central place in the lives of Gary and Mindy Cohen,” says Rabbi Yossi Friedman, program director at Chabad of Alabama. Dedicated to keeping Shabbat, and determined not to drive on the sacred day of rest, they either observed it alone at home, which is too far to walk to the Chabad center, or with friends, who live closer to Chabad.

Obtaining kosher food is also quite challenging in Alabama, a state with a tiny observant population and no kosher dining options, yet the Cohens gladly kept a kosher home.

“Gary was always coming over to me and sharing what he learned online or had read,” says Freidman. “With a unique persistence, he would always probe, ask, debate and discover. He was not shy about sharing his understanding, but he was always willing to listen to others and concede to them when he thought they were right. It was amazing to watch him grow and learn.”

In Florida to visit his parents, he was spending time together with his brother in a condominium on the 11th floor of the Champlain Towers South at the time of the collapse. Gary’s remains were discovered in the rubble on Wednesday, while Brad’s fate is still unknown.

In addition to his wife and brother, Gary Cohen is survived by his parents, Morton and Deborah Cohen, and sons, Jarred (Stephanie) and Seth Cohen.

David Epstein, 58, and Bonnie Epstein, 56: Real Estate Investors

Bonnie and David Epstein
Bonnie and David Epstein

David and Bonnie Epstein were snowbirds in early retirement with a passion for watersports, including kite surfing and jet skiing, who purchased a second home in Surfside after a long career in real estate investing in the Northeast.

After hearing the news of the tragic destruction of Champlain Towers South—where the Epstein’s lived on the 9th floor—their cousin, Joey Feldman, spoke about their small, warm family. They were the proud parents of one son, Jonathan, 26, of Brooklyn.

Bonnie Epstein was identified as a victim of the tragedy on Friday, July 2. Her husband, David, was identified a few days later, on Sunday July 4.

Richard Oller of Philadelphia, a friend and business partner of David Epstein for 30 years, told the Miami Herald that the couple was eagerly planning a trip up north very soon to see their son

On learning of their passing, Jonathan Epstein posted a tribute to his parents on Facebook: “… my parents were amazing people and would be touched by the outpouring of love and support we’ve received.”


Stacie Fang, 54, of Surfside: Vice President for Customer Relationships

Stacie Fang, with her son, Jonah Handler.
Stacie Fang, with her son, Jonah Handler.

The first victim identified after the tragic Surfside Building Collapse was Stacie Fang. A beloved mother, community member and businesswoman, she lived in the Champlain Tower.

In the moments after the devastating collapse, Nicholas Balboa, a Surfside resident who was passing by the building on his midnight walk, heard a desperate cry for help and saw hands reaching through the debris. Miraculously, it was Jonah Handler, Stacie’s 15 year old son, who emerged from the wreckage, devastated, but alive. His mother’s whereabouts were not known until she was identified in the rubble.

A native of New York City, where she studied business administration at Pace University, she worked for the past decade at the Surfside-based Customer Relationship Management Conference, where she served as Vice President.

“There are no words to describe the tragic loss of our beloved Stacie. The members of the Fang and Handler families would like to express our deepest appreciation for the outpouring of sympathy, compassion and support we have received,” said a family statement. “The many heartfelt words of encouragement and love have served as a much-needed source of strength during this devastating time.”

Stacie was laid to rest in a touching service on Tuesday morning, in the presence of her son, family and friends.


Estelle Hedaya, 58, Jewelry Executive: 98th and Final Victim of Surfside Condo Collapse

Estelle Hedaya
Estelle Hedaya

More than a month after the collapse of the Champlain Towers South in Surfside, Fla., Estelle Hedaya, 58, has been identified as the 98th and final victim of the tragedy.

Hedaya worked in the jewelry industry in New York for more than 25 years before moving to Florida, making countless friends along the way. Many had flooded her social media pages after news of the tragedy broke—first with prayers for her wellbeing and safety, and in recent weeks with the hope that she identified for the sake of her grieving family and loved ones.

A Brooklyn native, Estelle’s mother worked in New York’s competitive jewelry market, where Estelle worked hard and made a name for herself. In 2015, she was recruited to work at Continental Buying Group and Preferred Jewelers International in Florida, and relocated to Surfside, where she lived on the 6th floor of the Champlain Towers South condominium.

A passionate traveler and foodie who loved to try new things and just have fun, Estelle ran a blog called followthetoes.com, where she shared her adventures, feelings and advice. Her friend Mindy Beth Silverman told the Miami Herald that Estelle was full of life and devoted to her Judaism, with a deep and abiding love for Israel and her fellow Jewish people.

Obituaries of the many of the victims and articles about the response to the tragedy by the Surfside Jewish community and the outpouring of good deeds and help from around the world can be read at the Chabad.org special section on Surfside here.

Nicole Langesfeld, 26: Florida Attorney

Nicole Langesfeld and Luis Sadovnic
Nicole Langesfeld and Luis Sadovnic

Nicole Langesfeld, an American with Argentine roots, was studying to be a commercial litigator when she met Luis Sadovnic, a young man from Venezuela studying at the University of Florida in Gainesville, Fla. Both were adventurous and easy going, and they were married in January 2021, on the beach in front of his grandmother’s 8th floor apartment in Champlain Tower South, which they moved into. Nicole Langesfeld was identified as a victim of the tragedy on July 10. Luis Slavonic remains missing.

Known for their humor and passion for physical fitness, friends recall their love of exploring new places and things and ever present smiles. Co-workers in the Miami branch of Reed Smith, where Nicole worked as an associate, describe her as a clever lawyer with a high work ethic.

Noah Goldberg told The Washington Post that Nicole was very funny and cared deeply about her friends. An example he shared was how on the day before the collapse Goldberg didn’t feel well, and Nicole called and texted him at 9:45 p.m. to ask how he was feeling. Her building collapsed just a few short hours later.

Nancy Kress Levin, 76; Jay Kleiman, 51; Frank Kleiman, 55: Family Fled Castro’s Cuba

Nancy Kress Levin with her sons, Jay and Frank Kleiman.
Nancy Kress Levin with her sons, Jay and Frank Kleiman.

Having left Cuba following the 1959 Communist revolution, Nancy Kress Levin and her two sons, Frank and Jay Kleiman, joined the Jewish community in Puerto Rico. Later moving to Florida, they settled in Surfside’s Champlain Towers, a building popular with Jewish Cuban emigres, in the 1980s. Nancy became a beloved member of The Shul community with her late husband, Lawrence Levin, and was known for being a doting “Abuela.”

Frank Kleiman lived on the same 7th floor of Champlain Towers South as his mother, with his wife of three weeks, Ana, and her son, Luis, both of who remain missing. A father of four, and known for being the joyful life of the party, Frank Kleiman had just launched Private Postal Systems after a career as a sales manager at Zesnah, a sports apparel brand. His remains were recovered on June 28th.

Jay Kleiman returned to Puerto Rico as an adult to join his father’s garment business, but returned to Surfside in recent weeks for the funeral of a friend lost to the coronavirus, and was staying with his mother on the night of its devastating collapse. Jay was a musician who released three albums, the latest of which and first in over a decade, “All the Voices in My Head,” debuted just a short three months before the tragic accident.

“It is so tragic that he flew in for a friend who died from COVID complications, and ended up there,” Mark Baranek, a friend in the community, told the Miami Herald.

Deborah Berezdivin, a cousin of the Kleimans, remains among the missing.


 

Andres Levine: 26, Young Financial Analyst From Venezuela

Andres Levine
Andres Levine
Andres Levine has been described as a quiet, straight-shooting financial analyst who emigrated from Venezuela to Miami seven years ago. The 26-year-old was planning to be married in August.

Aways genuine and focused on the positive, Levine attended Colegio Moral y Luces Herzl-Bialik, a private Jewish high school in Caracas, along with his close friends Moises Rodan and Luis Sadovnik, who also lost their lives in the collapse of the Champlain Tower South in Surfside, Fla. Levine was identified as a victim on July 13.

“They all left Venezuela looking for a better future and better opportunities,” said his friend, Esther Beniflah Melul, who attended the same high school. “We’re all in shock,” she told The Miami Herald.

Melul said that the three were proud, religious Jews who were active in the strong Venezuelan Jewish community in the area.

“Andres would often visit his many friends on campus,” says Rabbi Berl Goldman, co-director of Chabad at the University of Florida in Gainesville. “You could see how truly close members of the Venezulian Jewish community are. They’re like family.”

“The Jewish community has been so supportive,” said Melul, explaining that the community has organized donations, prayer groups and psychological help for family and friends. “They care a lot. … Some of these people don’t even know the victims.

Dr. Ruslan Manashirov, 36, and Nicole Doran-Manashirov, 48: Neurologist and Physician’s Assistant

Nicole and Dr. Ruslan Manashirov at their wedding.
Nicole and Dr. Ruslan Manashirov at their wedding.

Three months ago, friends gathered in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., to celebrate the wedding of Dr. Ruslan Manashirov and Nicole Doran-Manashirov. The event had been postponed multiple times due to the coronavirus pandemic. Loving the beach, the newlyweds moved into Champlain Towers South in Surfside, Fla. She was identified on July 9 as a victim of the building’s collapse. He was identified on July 8.

“They were just starting their lives,” Dr. Manashirov’s sister, Valery Manashirova, told WABC-TV in New York.

Nicole Doran-Manashirov was a Pittsburgh native and a physician assistant in the emergency department at the Aventura Hospital, who dedicated herself to saving lives during the dark days of the pandemic.

Ruslan grew up in Bergen Beach, Brooklyn, to an Azerbaijani-Jewish family originally from Baku. He was a neurologist and a family practice doctor at the ClareMedica medical center in Palmetto Bay, Fla.

A patient of Dr. Manashirov’s, Jose Miqueli, posted on Twitter:

“This has been very hard to deal with. Ruslan was my doctor, and we had so many conversations. Last one was about his dad. Wonderful man, doctor and son. ”

Linda March, 58: Real Estate Attorney and Administrative Judge

A dedicated friend, beloved for her ‘spicy sense of humor,’ her love for travel and especially her love for Judaism and the Jewish people, Linda March, 58, was an attorney specializing in real estate law who earned her JD from Yeshiva University’s Cardozo School of Law. She had served as Administrative Law Judge at the NYC Environmental Control Board (now known as OATH), the New York city agency that adjudicates summonses that are issued by these agencies.

After contracting the coronavirus last year in New York City, March suffered from the so-called “long COVID” symptoms, and recently left the city for the warm weather and sunny beaches of Surfside, Fla. hoping that the move would be healing both physically and spiritually.

She rented the fully furnished Penthouse 4 on the Champlain’s South Tower as a new home and office. The apartment was ripped apart when the Champlain Tower collapsed. She was identified on July 22 as a victim of the tragedy.

Renee Manger and March were part of a group of friends who lived in Manhattan during the early aughts.

“We would get together for Shabbat meals at Linda’s apartment on Manhattan’s Upper West Side, go out for dinner together, just talk as friends,” Manger says. “She was always so upbeat and fun, very bright and learned – both in her Jewish knowledge and in her professional life.”

Despite the passing of time, as Manger moved to Stamford and March began to split her time between New York and Florida, the two remained in touch.

After Manger’s twin brother passed away, as well as after the passing of March’s sister and parents, the two connected.

“We didn’t have a superficial friendship,” Manger says. “There was real depth there. When Linda called me, we’d get right into it.”

Linda had a strong Jewish education, attended Yeshiva University High School, and has remained deeply committed to Jewish study and causes. After her sister passed away from cancer, March began supporting cancer research.

“She’s been a great supporter of Israel and the Jewish people,” says Selwyn Singer, another friend from ‘the group’ and also a transplant to South Florida.

In fact, March and Singer had plans to attend a Torah study class in Aventura a week after the fateful collapse of the Champlain Tower.

“Linda was truly an aishet chayil,” Singer says, using the Hebrew term for a woman of valor, “and an amazing friend.”

Ilan Naibryf, 21: Physics Major and Entrepreneur at U. of Chicago

Ilan Naibryf
Ilan Naibryf

Ilan Naibryf, a physics major and entrepreneur at the University of Chicago who was past president of his school’s campus Chabad center was identified on July 9 as a victim of the Champlain Tower building collapse. He was in Florida with his girlfriend, Deborah Berezdivin, attending the funeral of a family friend who had died of COVID.

“Ilan was a scholar, entrepreneur and admired campus leader, “wrote University of Chicago Provost Ka Yee C. Lee and Dean of Students Michele Rasmussen in a message to the school, noting that Ilan was a physics major with a minor in molecular engineering and was active within the campus community.

“He also was co-founder and CEO of STIX Financial, a 2021 College New Venture Challenge finalist, served as president of the Chabad House student board, was a former member of the men’s track and field team, and was active in recreational soccer. He will be greatly missed,” the statement said.

“Ilan was upbeat, always smiling,” said Rabbi Yossi Brackman, director of Rohr Chabad Center at the University of Chicago and Hyde Park. “He was very studious; an innovator who was in the middle of making a startup, hardworking and very friendly. He was an all-around great guy.”

Brackman and his wife, Baila, first learned that Ilan was among the missing from one of his friends, who contacted them on the day of the disaster. They immediately went to work. Baila Brackman reached out to Ilan’s family and to students who make up their community, gathering together with them on Zoom to recite Psalms and to pray for those who remained unaccounted for. The Brackmans continue to provide ongoing support for Ilan’s many friends at the school who are devastated by the loss.

Arnie Notkin, 87, and Myriam Notkin, 81: Retired Teacher and Banker

Arnie and Myriam Notkin
Arnie and Myriam Notkin

Arnie and Myriam Notkin met more than 40 years after she emigrated from Cuba with the wave of immigrants who arrived in Florida after the communists seized power in 1959. She was a widow with three daughters when they married, and the couple spent 20 years of joy and happiness together, living on the 3rd floor of Champlain Towers South. Arnie Notkin was identified on July 12 as among the victims of the building’s collapse. His wife remains missing.

Both had long careers. Arnie worked as a physical education teacher at Miami Beach’s Leroy D. Fienberg Elementary School, and Myriam as a banker and real estate agent before they retired and embraced the next stage of their lives. Always with a story to tell, Arnie is an institution in the Miami Beach community and takes great pride in his students. Long after they had graduated, he always had a nice word and memory to share about them.

In a lengthy tribute shared on CNN, their friend and North Miami Beach Commissioner, Fortuna Smukler, remembered how kind, caring and warm they were. Myriam was close with Smukler’s mother and took care to mention her every time they met—even four decades after her passing— making it clear to Smukler how much Myriam truly treasured their relationship.

Leon Oliwkowicz, 81, and Ruth Oliwkowicz, 74 of Surfside: Donated Torah Scroll in Chicago

Leon Oliwkowicz donated a Torah scroll in 2019 to the Lubavitch Mesivta (High School) of Chicago.
Leon Oliwkowicz donated a Torah scroll in 2019 to the Lubavitch Mesivta (High School) of Chicago.

Leon Oliwkowicz, 81, and Ruth Oliwkowicz, 74, were among the first victims to have been confirmed by authorities as having been killed in the tragic Champlain Towers collapse in Surfside, Fla. Originally from Venezuela, the couple moved to Florida in recent years to be near their children, who had moved to the United States.

Rabbi Moshe B. Perlstein, dean of the Lubavitch Mesivta of Chicago, says that the couple had an air of modest sophistication about them. Leon Oliwkowicz, a businessman and entrepreneur in Venezuela, was a very upbeat person and took tremendous pride from watching his children and grandchildren thrive. “He was extremely giving and was always looking to help a fellow human being.”

Mrs. Leah Rivka Perlstein, principal emeritus at Cheder Lubavitch Girls School of Chicago, says that Ruth Oliwkowicz was a very refined, unassuming woman who “wasn’t looking to be in the limelight. She was dedicated to her children and grandchildren and loved spending quality time with them when she visited Chicago.”

Noting that Leon Oliwkowicz proudly spoke an impeccable Yiddish, the rabbi says: “I couldn’t quite keep up with his Yiddish, the vocabulary that he used was so sophisticated.”

In 2019, the Oliwkowiczes donated a Torah scroll to the Mesivta where their son-in-law and daughter, Rabbi Bezalel and Leah Fouhal, are active supporters. At the event, celebrated with a grand procession in the West Rogers Park neighborhood, Mr. Oliwkowicz spoke in Yiddish, blessing the participants with continued health and longevity. “Moshe Rabbeinu (Moses) lived until 120 ripe years of age,” he joked.

Rabbi Levi Stern, a teacher at the Lubavitch Mesivta, had the opportunity to get to know Leon Oliwkowitz when he had stayed at the Stern’s home in Chicago: “He was a varemer Yid (warm-hearted Jew),” he says. “He had a sense of pride when he spoke Yiddish and was pleased to see that we spoke Yiddishin our home. He had a quick witted sense of humor and always looked at others with a good eye.”

The Oliwkowiczes were members of The Shul of Bal Harbour.

They are survived by their children and their grandchildren.


Moises Rodan, 28: Computer Engineer Was ‘A Light Among His Peers’

Moises Rodan, center, with Rabbi Aharon Notik, left, and a fellow student at the University of Florida at Gainesville.
Moises Rodan, center, with Rabbi Aharon Notik, left, and a fellow student at the University of Florida at Gainesville.

Known for his million-dollar smile and deep passion for Judaism, Moises Rodan graduated just last month with a bachelor’s degree in computer engineering from the University of Florida in Gainesville.

A native of Caracas, Venezuela, Rodan was part of the warm cohort of South American Jews who attended UF, where he took up a leadership role at the Lubavitch-Chabad Jewish Center at the University of Florida in Gainesville. Rodan served on the student board for three years, helped plan many programs, and attended Torah-study classes and services at Chabad.

Before moving to the U.S., Rodan attended Colegio Moral y Luces Herzl-Bialik, a private Jewish high school in Caracas along with his close friends Andres Levine and Luis Sadovnik, who also lost their lives in the collapse of the Champlain Tower South in Surfside, Fla. The evening that the building collapsed, Rodan was staying at an apartment on the building’s third floor that belonged to his parents, Ricardo and Diana Rodan.

“Moises was a light among his peers,” says Rabbi Berl Goldman, co-director of Chabad at UF.

Tapping into the “incredible bond and warmth” students from South America share, Rodan would often inspire his peers to take part in Jewish life on campus.

“There was a true sense of refinement and honesty to Moises,” says Rabbi Aron Notik, co-director of programming at Chabad at UF. “We’d go tabling together, and Moises was always excited to teach and share what he knew with others.”

Rodan at his graduation a few months ago.
Rodan at his graduation a few months ago.
Rodan, second from right, listens to the reading of the Megillah on Purim.
Rodan, second from right, listens to the reading of the Megillah on Purim.
Rodan, third from left, at a Chabad event on campus.
Rodan, third from left, at a Chabad event on campus.

Chaim (Harry) Rosenberg, 52: Asset Manager Launched Mental Health Center for Young Adults

Chaim Rosenberg with his late wife, Anna.
Chaim Rosenberg with his late wife, Anna.

Harry Rosenberg, 52, known to his family and friends by his Jewish name, Chaim, was an asset manager originally from Brooklyn, N.Y., and a recent resident of Champlain Towers in Surfside, Fla. He purchased a second-floor condo only last month, hoping that its views of the Atlantic Ocean would help him find solace after a turbulent year that saw the loss of his wife, Anna Rosenberg, to cancer, and both of his parents to COVID-19.

In recent months, Rosenberg had dedicated himself towards launching Mercaz Shalom, a young-adult center for mental healing, located on the campus of Mayanei Hayeshua Hospital in Bnei Brak, Israel, in memory of his late wife.He was identified on June 28 among those who lost their lives in the building collapse.

In a conversation recorded in Tablet magazine with Steve Eisenberg, a fellow member of The Shul of Bal Harbour, Rosenberg said of his move to Florida: “I’m so happy to be here; this is my next chapter of happiness.”

Previously, Rosenberg had been renting smaller apartments in the area but had purchased the larger one at Champlain to have more room for his children and their families to visit. His daughter, Malki Weisz, and her husband, Benny, of Lakewood, N.J., were staying with him at the time of the collapse. They also lost their lives in the tragedy.

Rosenberg was beloved by those who know him as a truly dedicated friend and family man, someone who “loves everyone and is loved by all.”

“He was always thinking of others—the type of person who puts their needs before his own,” recalls Sendy Liebhard, a friend. “If he sees something and concludes that ‘this is just the thing that so-and-so would appreciate,’ it would arrive at the friend’s house in short order.”

Rosenberg had returned from a trip to New York just hours before the building collapse, rushing back to greet Benny and Malki Weisz.

“Chaim was a man of intense faith,” says Liebhard. “Life threw him a lot of curveballs, especially recently. His faith in G‑d and positive outlook is what’s nourished him and what he taught his family.”

Luis Sadovnic, 28: A Passion for Sports and Jewish Life

Nicole Langesfeld and Luis Sadovnic
Nicole Langesfeld and Luis Sadovnic

Luis Sadovnic was a young man from Venezuela studying at the University of Florida in Gainesville when he met Nicole Langesfeld, an American with Argentine roots, who was studying to be a commercial litigator. Both were adventurous and easy going, and they were married in January 2021, on the beach in front of his grandmother’s 8th floor apartment in Champlain Tower South, which they moved into.

Sadovnic was identified on July 11 as a victim of the building’s collapse, a day after his wife was identified.

A native of Caracas, Venezuela, Sadovnic attended Colegio Moral y Luces Herzl-Bialik, a private Jewish high school, along with his close friends Moises Rodan and Andres Levine, who were also in Champlain Tower South when it collapsed on June 24.

Following high school, Sadovnic attended Santa Fe College in Gainesville, Fla., before transferring to the University of Florida in Gainesville.

Part of the tight knit South American Jewish community at the University of Florida, Sadovnic was popular with many of his fellow students. Known for their humor and passion for physical fitness, friends recall Luis and his wife’s love of exploring new places and things and ever present smiles.

“Luis had an amazing rapport with other students,” says Rabbi Berl Goldman, co-director with his wife, Chanie, of the Lubavitch Chabad Jewish Center in Gainesville. “Luis stood at the center of an almost family-like group of young proud Jews.”

Simon Segal, 80: Cornell-Educated Engineer Known for Wit and Integrity

Simon Segal—whose family fled Cuba for Florida in 1960 when he was a 19-year-old foreign exchange student at Cornell University—was a structural engineer who was beloved by all who knew him. Known for his quick sense of humor and kind demeanor, his youthful energy and his desire to conduct his life with honesty and integrity were trademark ethics that he held dear throughout his entire life, his friends say. He was identified as a victim of the Champlain Towers collapse in Surfside, Fla. on July 12.

Segal, a graduate of Cornell, held a Bachelor in Science of Civil Engineering, two Masters of Science degrees in Management and Finance, and one Master of Business Administration degree from Florida International University. He worked as a professional engineer, specializing in highway and bridge construction, structural engineering and construction management.

In addition, he was a successful real estate agent and mortgage broker. Simon spoke multiple languages, among them: Spanish, Portuguese, Italian and French.

One of his friends, Isaac Osin, met Simon Segal in the 1960s. The two young men developed a strong bond. In an interview with the Palm Beach Post, Osin described his first impressions of Segal: “He was a little older than us. We were very impressed with him – he had graduated. He was already an engineer and already had a nice car. He was very funny, always with a joke… He fitted in with everybody. He was studious and very smart. He was just a fun guy.”

Segal was a lifelong bachelor, Osin said, and a fixture at events at his synagogue, many of whose members had once lived in Cuba, and was liked by all.

Segal was a life member of the American Society of Civil Engineers and had held memberships in the Florida Engineering Society, National Society of Professional Engineers, Society of American Military Engineers and the Cornell Society of Engineers.

Judy Spiegel, 65, Stockbroker and Dedicated Volunteer

Judy and Kevin Spiegel
Judy and Kevin Spiegel

A gregarious stockbroker with Merrill Lynch, Judy Spiegel was a dedicated volunteer at the Southampton Hospital’s Ellen Hermanson Breast Center on New York’s Long Island, on Holocaust memorial projects, and on giving back to her community in many other ways.

In 2017, she and her husband of more than 40 years, Kevin, relocated to Surfside, and settled on the sixth floor of Champlain Tower South, where they became familiar faces in the community. With Kevin away on a business trip, Judy Spiegel was alone in her apartment in the early hours of June 24, when it went down in the devastating collapse. She was identified on July 10 as among those who lost their lives in the disaster.

Spiegel grew up in South Bellview, N.Y. After marrying, the young couple began to raise their family in Plainview, N.Y., before establishing themselves in Southampton, on the eastern end of Long Island. They had three children and became longtime pillars of the Chabad of Southampton community.

“Judy was so warm, nice and kind,” Rabbi Rafe Konikov, co-director of Chabad of Southampton, told Newsday. “Whenever she walked into a room, she filled it with positive energy and was always smiling and filled with life.”

Spiegel’s daughter Rachel noted that her mother was a passionate advocate for Holocaust awareness. On learning of her passing, Rachel Spiegel posted on behalf of herself and her brothers, Michael and Josh, that “today was one of the hardest days of our lives.” She thanked the first responders, including the IDF team, for all their hard work.

“The intense rollercoaster of emotions that we have experienced over the past 18 days has been indescribable, wrote Rachel Spiegel. “We truly appreciate all of our family and friends for being by our side, rooting us on, and praying that we be reunited with our mom. We hope our mom is looking down on us with pride, knowing we fought our hardest to find her.”

“We are so proud to be her kids,” her daughter continued, “and we will pass on all the amazing lessons she taught us. Her spirit will continue to live on in all of us.”

Judy Spiegel is survived by her husband and children. She will be laid to rest July 13 at the Mt. Sinai cemetery in Miami.

Benny Weisz, 32, Malkie Weisz, 27, Financial Analysts from New Jersey

Benny and Malky Weiss
Benny and Malky Weiss

Benny Weisz, 32, and Malki Weisz, 27, of Lakewood, N.J., had just flown into Surfside, Fla., the night of the Champlain Tower collapse. The couple, married for five years, came to visit Malki’s father, Chaim Rosenberg, and spend Shabbat with him in his new apartment.

Benny Weisz was identified as a victim of the tragedy on July 9. He wife was idenitfied the following day. His father-in-law had been identified a few days earlier.

Benny, a native of Vienna, Austria, was one of two children born to Dyuri and Tina Weisz. Dyuri, who passed away several years ago, worked at Alvorada Wiener Coffee, a family-owned business.

A friend of the family, Chana Weiser, a Chabad-Lubavitch emissary with Chabad of Austria, said Benny, along with his older brother, Danny, were “very refined people who live their Jewish values.”

Shushy Bernholtz, a childhood classmate and life-long friend of Benny, described him as “a diverse person of many talents, with a huge heart.”

“Benny knows everything,” said Bernholtz. “He can quote the works of the great German playwrights and poets like Goethe and Schiller and explain the most complex debates in the Talmud with relevant commentaries,“ he said.

After studying at the Hebron Yeshivah in the Givat Mordechai neighborhood of Jerusalem where he and Bernholtz were roommates, Weisz went on to study computer science at King’s College in London. After his marriage to Malki Rosenberg, the couple moved to Lakewood, where he worked in finance and studied in a local kollel.

His wife, Malki, worked as an auditor at Farmingdale, N.J., branch of the Roth & Co. accounting firm. Shlomo Schorr, a colleague, described her as someone with an almost regal bearing “who brought an abundance of joy and life into the workplace.”

Benny Weisz was laid to rest on July 12 at the Har Hamenuchot Cemetery in Jerusalem.