Acts of Chesed Bring Some Sunshine Back to Surfside
By Yehudit Garmaise
Brightening the devasting news that comes every day from Surfside, Fla., after the inexplicable collapse of the Chaplain Towers South, are the heartening Kiddushei Hashem that Yidden and others are doing, simply to provide comfort to those in need.
First, the massive search and rescue effort that was started by the Miami-Dade Police Department at 2am on June 24, was quickly bolstered by rescue crews that hailed from other police departments, Hatzolah crews, Chesed Shel Emes groups, across South Florida, Boro Park, Williamsburg, and many other Jewish communities who drove and flew into join in the heartbreaking, dangerous, and painstaking search through the rubble to find the missing.
Devastatingly, as families and friends await news of their loved ones amid news that survival at this point is nearly impossible, rabbis in the area report that one of the most common shilas they are hearing is: when they can begin to sit shiva for the 22 residents who remain missing. To date, 94 residents have been confirmed niftar.
Also working to recover survivors and victims at the building’s collapse were a seven-person team from the Israel Defense Force’s (IDF) Home Front Command search-and-rescue team, which arrived at the scene on Sunday, June 27, and left yesterday, after receiving salutes from other emergency workers and supporters, who movingly sang, “Ani Maamin,” as the IDF soldiers walked passed them.
In addition to the heroic efforts made by hundreds of rescue workers, volunteer therapists descended on the scene to help victims, families and friends process what they were experiencing as many stress and trauma reactions set in psychologically.
Other Israelis on the scene were a volunteer team of six arrived from United Hatzalah of Israel’s Psychotrauma and Crisis Response Unit, who were there to provide psychological support to the families of the missing, as well as first responders at the collapse site.
In Surfside, all around the darkness of the remains of the buildings collapse that was so severe that emergency workers compared it to the remains of the World Trade Centers after 9/11, are bright, cheerful, and colorful flowers blossoming, as Yidden and others have been providing “smaller” acts of chesed, such as davening, saying Tehillim, bringing food, drink, and even flip flops to residents who escaped the building in the middle of the night, without even shoes on their feet.
Among the hundreds of acts of chesed Surfside residents have reported in two and a half weeks since the 12-story building’s collapse have been a boy giving out candy to first responders, regularly scheduled deliveries of food to rescue workers who rarely had time to eat all day, and the collection and organization of donated prepared food to JSC Kosher Food Bank, 4,500-square-foot food warehouse about which Bonnie Schwartzbaum, the food bank’s director told the Washington Post, “to the ceiling, we’ve never been so full.”
Yesterday, the children of the Chabad Jewish Center of Coral Springs, demonstrated their love and support for the Surfside community by creating beautiful wooden signs that said, "Birchat Habayit," or blessings for the new homes for the families who lost their homes.
"We have already delivered the signs we made to some families, some of whom were sitting Shiva, to have in their homes, as well as to a Jewish first responder who lives in the area, and who has been struggling with the death with which he was forced to deal, as he helped to recover the bodies," said Rabbi Yankie Denburg, who organized the event.
In addition to smaller, loving gestures, tzedakah immediately started pouring in for the victims’ families.
For instance, the Shul of Bal Harbour synagogue will administer the $1,091,319 that Chesed Fund had raised just days after the collapse of the building to go to expenses that insurance will not cover and direct support for the families, The Washington Post reported.
Shekar Reddy, an Indian-American philanthropist and his partner Yeny Paola Rico booked and paid for hotel rooms in neighboring communities.
Local groups are meeting with families to connect them with developers who have offered free furnished apartments.
The Miami Heat basketball team and several local organizations created a Support Surfside fund for the victims, and local billionaire businessman Orlando Bravo donated $250,000.
The strength of communities like Surfside comes from its intertwined roots, like the those of 3,000 year-old Sequoia trees that can grow to 30 feet wide and 250 feet tall.