‘Like a war zone,’ rabbi of nearby synagogue says of Miami condo collapse

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Jewish emergency response services continue to assist in the search-and-rescue efforts looking for survivors amid the rubble, after a 12-story apartment building collapsed in Surfside, Florida, a heavily Orthodox town near Miami Beach.

At least four people have been killed, with dozens still missing in the collapse, which took place without warning at about 2 a.m., and authorities in Surfside say they fear many more fatalities. The building, part of a complex called Champlain Towers, is home to year-round residents rather than people who move there from colder climates for the winter.

Miami-Dade Mayor Daniella Levine-Cava said Friday morning that the number of people who are unaccounted for in Thursday’s building collapse rose to 159 — dramatically higher than the 102 reported earlier.

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Hatzalah of South Florida, an Orthodox ambulance service, has established a command center at the collapse site, according to a tweet posted early Thursday by Chevra Hatzalah, the service covering New York City.

Nearly half of Surfside’s roughly 6,000 residents are Orthodox Jews, many associated with the Hasidic Chabad movement, which established a presence in the area in the 1980s. WhatsApp groups with many Orthodox Jews who have ties to the area buzzed Thursday with concerns about community members.

The collapsed building is on Collins Avenue, one mile south of The Shul, an Orthodox synagogue.  In an interview with the Miami Herald, Rabbi Sholom Lipskar, the spiritual leader at the Shul said, “I have to say the sensation here is like in a war zone.” “It feels exactly like 9/11.”

He said a vigil at his synagogue began at 1 p.m. and will be ongoing. He couldn’t give an exact number of the Shul members among those missing and injured, but said it is “a lot.”

“There are certain things you can talk about it but you can’t say anything,” the rabbi said. “No words can contain the real of what happened.”

Asked by a reporter how the Jewish community of Surfside can move forward from an event like this, Lipskar said, “Jewish people have faced adversity throughout our history.”