Surfside: Miami’s ‘most’ Jewish community

Surfside is considered by many to be Miami’s most Jewish neighborhood
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SURFSIDE, FLORIDA - JUNE 25: Miami-Dade Fire Rescue personnel spray water on a fire in the partially collapsed 12-story Champlain Towers South condo building as search and rescue operations continue on June 25, 2021 in Surfside, Florida. 99 people are being reported as missing as search-and-rescue efforts continue with rescue crews from across Miami-Dade and Broward counties. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)

At least four people have been killed, dozens pulled from the rubble and dozens more are still missing after the partial collapse of a 12-story condo building on Thursday in the largely Jewish Miami suburb of Surfside, Florida.

Who are the Jews of Surfside?

Surfside is considered by many to be Miami’s most Jewish neighborhood. It is home to under 6,000 people and at least 2,500 of them are Orthodox Jews. 

The history of Jews in South Florida dates back to the 19th Century. Today, South Florida is home to large populations of both Ashkenazi and Sephardic Jews as well as many Jews from South America.

Sheldon's Drugs Fountain Luncheonette in Surfside, photographed in the 1970s.
Sheldon’s Drugs Fountain Luncheonette in Surfside, photographed in the 1970s. (Jewish Museum of Florida/Courtesy)

There are five synagogues within walking distance of the Champlain Towers South Condo, the building which collapsed Thursday.

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Prominent Jewish writer, Isaac Bashevis Singer, lived in Surfside before his death in 1991. A street in the neighborhood was named Isaac Singer Boulevard in his honor.

In one of his short stories, Gimpel The Fool, Singer wrote: “Shoulders are from God, and burdens too.” It’s a thought which may provide strength as we follow the news out of Surfside in the coming hours and days.

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Current situation at ##Champlaintowers ##Surfside ##Florida ##SurfsideBuildingCollapse ##Collapse ##Miami ##buildingcollapse ##MiamiDade

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What happened?

A wing of the Champlain Towers South Condo collapsed on Thursday morning, sending a cloud of debris throughout Surfside. 

During a news conference, Surfside Mayor Charles Burkett warned that the rest of the building could be in danger of collapsing. He also said the building manager warned him the tower was quite full and the death toll was likely to rise.

SURFSIDE, FLORIDA – JUNE 24: People wait to hear word about missing or injured friends and relatives after the partial collapse of the 12-story Champlain Towers South condo on June 24, 2021 in Surfside, Florida. It is unknown at this time how many people were injured as search-and-rescue effort continues with rescue crews from across Miami-Dade and Broward counties. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)

“The building is literally pancaked, it has gone down, and I mean there’s just feet in between stories where there were 10 feet,” Burkett said. “That is heartbreaking because it doesn’t mean to me that we’re going to be as successful as we would want to be to find people alive.”

SURFSIDE, FLORIDA – JUNE 24: Search and Rescue personnel work after the partial collapse of the 12-story Champlain Towers South condo building on June 24, 2021 in Surfside, Florida. It is unknown at this time how many people were injured as search-and-rescue effort continues with rescue crews from across Miami-Dade and Broward counties. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)

At the time of the collapse, the building was undergoing work on its concrete roof, Burkett said, but it is unclear whether the work was a factor in the collapse. 

At least 34 of the missing persons are believed to be Jewish, the Chabad of South Broward in Hallandale Beach told the South Florida Sun-Sentinel. The Israeli foreign ministry confirmed 20.

Also, some 30 people from Latin American nations — including Colombia, Uruguay, Venezuela, Cuba, Chile, Paraguay, Puerto Rico and Argentina — are among those reported missing by friends and family, according to the Miami Herald. Among the missing persons are the family members of Paraguay’s First Lady.

Rabbis from several local synagogues were at the community center providing counseling and chaplaincy services. At the scene of the collapse, members of the Hatzalah South Florida established a command center for emergency aid and have provided assistance in search and rescue operations. 

Chabad has published a list of 23 Hebrew names of missing people, asking for prayers. Although the identities cannot be verified, Chabad will be adding names to the list upon receiving them, they said.

The names went viral on private chats pleading for prayers. 

Chani Lipskar, the wife of the rabbi at the Shul of Bal Harbour, which is about eight blocks away, told the Sun-Sentinel that thousands of people worldwide were reciting prayers for not only the missing Jewish people, but everyone else as well.

How to help?

SURFSIDE, FLORIDA – JUNE 25: A “Surfside Strong” sign hangs on a balcony as search and rescue operations continue at the site of the partially collapsed 12-story Champlain Towers South condo building on June 25, 2021 in Surfside, Florida. Over one hundred people are being reported as missing as search-and-rescue effort continues with rescue crews from across Miami-Dade and Broward counties. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)

The Greater Miami Jewish Federation set up an emergency assistance fund and said it is providing housing assistance for those left homeless by the collapse.

“In addition, sadly, we know that there may be families who require help arranging appropriate funeral and burial services for loved ones in the days ahead. Federation is ready to provide assistance as necessary as this tragedy continues to unfold,” they said in a statement.

The town of Surfside has set up a hardship fund to help all those affected by the tragedy.

The Shul of Bal Harbour has also created a central fund to be dispersed as needed directly to the victims and families.

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The Shul of Bal Harbour and Young Israel of Bal Halbour set up collection points. Please help if you can donate anything ##pleasepray ##breakingnews

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A hotline has been set up for family members looking for information at: 847-322-1422. 

Information from The Greater Miami Jewish Federation:

  • Emergency funding for families and individuals – Federation has opened an Emergency Fund for the Surfside Building Collapse to help individuals and families’ short- and long-term needs. Donations can be made online at JewishMiami.org/surfsidebuildingcollapse.
  • Chaplaincy Services – members of the clergy are on-site at the Surfside Community Center through Federation’s program Mishkan Miami: The Jewish Connection for Spiritual Support and from multiple local synagogues. To reach a chaplain, email rabbiklein@gmjf.org.
  • Crisis Counseling and Social Services –Federation’s primary human service agency Jewish Community Services of South Florida (JCS), is the community’s initial contact point for impacted individuals requiring short- or long-term assistance through its JCS Helpline Services. If you or someone you know requires support, call 2-1-1.
  • Housing Assistance – Together with JCS and multiple other resources, we will be working with individuals and families who have been displaced and who require assistance in securing short-term and longer-term housing solutions. If you are in need of housing, call 2-1-1.

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