From a group of young Venezuelan immigrants to New Yorkers looking for a fresh start in a new state, the tragedy struck a diverse nexus of the American Jewish community.
This article will be updated as more names are identified by authorities in Florida.
(JTA) — The Champlain Towers South building collapse is a national tragedy, one that has claimed nearly 20 lives so far and left over 140 still missing in the rubble as of Thursday.
Among other groups, it struck a unique nexus of the American Jewish community in South Florida, home to a mix of Latin American immigrants, Israelis and retirees from the Northeast. The town of Surfside, the site of the collapse, is at least a third Jewish, with a large Orthodox population.
Several of the victims identified were part of this Jewish community. We’ve gathered information here on those we could confirm as Jewish.
Unfortunately, this list may grow as the days pass and more bodies are found. We will update it accordingly.
Stacie Fang, 54
Stacie Fang, a New Jersey native who was the first victim of the Champlain Towers disaster to be identified, was buried in New Brunswick on Sunday, according to reports. Fang was the vice president of a Surfside-based company that produces an annual event in Chicago for retail and marketing executives, the Palm Beach Post reported. Her 15-year-old son, Jonah Hendler, was pulled alive from the wreckage of the building by a passerby shortly after it collapsed. Fang was declared dead at a hospital in Aventura, Florida, on Thursday.
“There are no words to describe the tragic loss of our beloved Stacie,” her family said in a statement.
Leon Oliwkowicz, 80, and Christina Beatriz Elvira, 74
Leon Oliwkowicz, 80, and Christina Beatriz Elvira, 74, a Venezuelan Jewish couple that recently moved to Florida, were among the first victims of the Chaplain Towers disaster to be identified. Miami-Dade police said their remains were recovered over the weekend, the Miami Herald reported. They were laid to rest on Monday.
In 2019, the couple donated a Torah scroll to a Chabad yeshiva in Chicago where their daughter worked as a secretary, according to a report on the Chabad website Collive. At the dedication, Oliwkowicz, speaking in Yiddish, expressed his joy at having finally commissioned a Torah scroll in memory of his parents.
Frank Kleiman, 55
Frank Kleiman had much to look forward to. His most recent public Facebook post on Feb. 22, captioned “New venture, new beginnings,” referred to a postal company he had just started. He had recently married Ana Ortiz, with whom he lived in the Champlain Towers. And he was looking forward to the birth of his first grandchild.
His body was recovered in the rubble on Monday. Ortiz and her son Luis are among the missing.
Kleiman, a child of Cuban Jewish emigres, was raised in Puerto Rico and had strong ties to the United States. He attended Drexel University in Philadelphia, earning a degree in finance, and was a big fan of the Philadelphia Eagles.
His mother, Nancy Kress Levin, also lived in the building. And his brother, Jay, was visiting from Puerto Rico. They, too, are among the missing.
Michael David Altman, 50
Michael David Altman had lived in his apartment, which had been in his family since the 1980s, for six years when the building collapsed. He was identified as one of the victims of the disaster on Monday. His funeral was Friday.
Altman, a Costa Rica native, came to the United States with his parents at the age of 4. He is survived by his parents, both in their 70s, as well as his two sons, Nicholas and Jeffrey, both in college.
Friends of Altman who posted to social media said he played racquetball regularly, according to the Palm Beach Post. His older son, Nicholas, told the Miami Herald that his father was “very loving,” “always smiling,” and “very fun and loved to tell jokes.”
“He was a great father, and a great son to my grandparents,” Nicholas said.
Tzvi and Itty Ainsworth, 68 and 66
Tzvi and Ingrid “Itty” Ainsworth, a couple in their mid-60s who had seven children, lived in Australia for nearly 20 years and were members of the Chabad of the North Shore in Sydney. They moved to South Florida several years ago to be closer to their children and grandchildren there. One daughter lives just a few blocks away from the Champlain Towers. The Ainsworths had recently celebrated the birth of two grandchildren.
“Every person she encountered, ever in her life, became her friend. Everyone was treated as equals,” Chana Wasserman, one of the Ainsworths’ daughters, wrote in a Mother’s Day blog post about her mother last year, according to The Associated Press. “The guy at the laundromat, the guy working at the fruit market …”
Rabbi Nochum Schapiro, head of their former Australian congregation, told the Australian Jewish News that “the community is urged to pray, to say tehillim [psalms], and to do mitzvot so that a miracle happens.”
Bonnie and David Epstein, 56 and 58
Bonnie and David Epstein loved to go jet skiing and kite surfing. So when they retired early from their work as real estate investors and moved into an apartment on the 9th floor of the Champlain Towers South in Surfside, it was something of a dream come true.
They were set to take their annual drive to Philadelphia and make a visit to their son Jonathan, 26, in New York before the building collapsed but delayed their trip while David recovered from an injury, according to the Miami Herald.
“My parents were really the best and it’s been so comforting to relive the joy of their lives through the testimony of friends and loved ones,” Jonathan Epstein wrote in a Facebook post, according to the Miami Herald. “Mom and Dad, I love you both so much and I’m so so proud to be your son.”
Judy Spiegel, 65
Judy Spiegel was enjoying spending more time with her grandchildren since she and her husband, Kevin, moved to Surfside in 2017. The move brought them closer to their daughter, Rachel, and her family in Miami. According to the Miami Herald, Spiegel, a Merrill Lynch stockbroker, taught Rachel’s four-year-old daughter Scarlett how to read, write, and count during the pandemic.
Kevin Spiegel was traveling for his job as a hospital administrator when the building collapsed.
“The other day [Scarlett’s] asking where is grandma, and I tried to explain that there’s been an accident,” he told the Miami Herald. “Scarlett responded, oh, she does this all the time, but I know all her hiding spots, just take me there and I’ll find her.”
The Spiegels were longtime members of the Chabad of Southampton on New York’s Long Island. Her daughter Rachel described her to the Associated Press as a “passionate advocate for Holocaust awareness.”
“Whenever she walked into a room, she filled it with positive energy and was always smiling and filled with life,” the Chabad of Southampton’s co-director Rabbi Rafe Konikov told Newsday.
Estelle Hedaya, 54
Estelle Hedaya, a 30-year veteran of the jewelry industry, had moved to Surfside from New York in 2015 to work at Continental Buying Group and Preferred Jewelers International, where she was director of operations. She celebrated the end of each work week at a Friday afternoon Zoom happy hour that she organized, called Hedaya Happy Hour, according to The Washington Post. It always ended before Shabbat, which she observed.
On her blog, Follow the Toes, Hedaya chronicled her life in Surfside and her visits to local spas and restaurants, as well as her foreign travels. “I haven’t been there yet, but it’s definitely on my bucket list!!” was her blog’s tagline.
A friend of Hedaya, Mindy Beth Silverman, told the Miami Herald her friend had thrived in South Florida.
“If there was something fun to do, she was first in line,” Silverman said.
Jay Kleiman, 51
Jay Kleiman, brother of Frank, was in South Florida, back in the condo where he grew up — only to attend the funeral of a good friend who had died of COVID-19, NBC Miami reported.
“It is so tragic that he flew for a friend who died from COVID complications, and ended up there,” said Mark Baranek, who coached Kleiman and his friend, George Matz, on a flag football team at their synagogue.
In Puerto Rico, Kleiman worked with his father in a garment industry company.
Nancy Kress Levin, 76
The Kleimans’ mother Nancy Kress Levin had fled the Cuban Revolution in 1959. She and her husband first settled in Puerto Rico. In the 1980s, Levin moved as a single mom with her two sons to Surfside and lived in Champlain Towers, then a new building popular with Hispanic Jews who had arrived mostly from Cuba.
Moises Rodan, 20s
Moises Rodan graduated this year from the University of Florida, where he studied computer engineering. Rodan attended a Jewish high school in Caracas, Venezuela, called Colegio Moral y Luces Herzl-Bialik and was involved in the Venezuelan Jewish community in the Miami area, according to the Miami Herald. In college he was involved in a student group called Hispanics and Latinos in Electrical and Computer Engineering.
Andres Levine, 26
Andres Levine was supposed to be married in August. The 26-year-old, who worked in finance, had moved to Florida from Venezuela about seven years ago in search of better work opportunities. He had attended high school with Rodan.
Esther Beniflah Melul, a friend who attended the same school and also was a close friend of Levine, told the Miami Herald that she had spoken with him the night before the collapse.
“We had so many plans, so many things to do … I was going to have dinner with him that Thursday night,” she said. “We spoke the night before. I just can’t believe he’s gone.
“Venezuela is the kind of country where these things could happen — but not here.”
Luis Sadovnic and Nicky Langesfeld
Though Luis Sadovnic and Nicky Langesfeld were engaged on the beach in front of the Champlain Towers in December, they had only moved into the building a few months before its collapse.
Langesfeld, a lawyer whose family lives in Argentina, and Sadovnic, who had an MBA and also attended the Colegio Moral y Luces Herzl-Bialik Jewish school in Venezuela, were married in a private civil ceremony in January, according to The Associated Press.
Organizers of a GoFundMe page for the couple’s families wrote that the couple loved to spend time together on the beach. A colleague of Langesfeld said the couple liked to listen to reggaeton music.
“Her presence is larger than life, and her sense of humor knows no bounds. She has the biggest heart and she loves to spoil her guinea pig Kali, and her dogs Capo and Zoey,” organizers of the fundraiser wrote of Langesfeld.
“Luis is down to earth, caring, and loving. He would do anything to protect Nicky,” they wrote about Sadovnic.
Harry Rosenberg, 52
It had been a rough year for Harry Rosenberg. His wife, Anna, died of cancer last summer and both his parents died of COVID-19. Seeking a respite he moved to South Florida, where he rented a series of places before settling on the Champlain Towers. He purchased his unit there only last month, according to a report by Chabad.org. Rosenberg returned to the apartment from a trip to New York just hours before the towers collapsed.
“Chaim is a man of intense faith,” said Sendy Liebhard, a friend. “Life threw him a lot of curveballs, especially recently. His faith in God and positive outlook is what’s nourished him.”
Malky Weisz, 27, and Benny Weisz, 32
Malky and Benny Weisz were only in town for a visit: They were visiting Harry Rosenberg, Malky’s father.
The couple lived in Lakewood, New Jersey, a town with a high percentage of haredi Orthodox Jews. Malky worked as an auditor at an accounting firm and Benny, originally from Austria, worked in finance.
Shushy Bernholtz, a friend of Benny’s since childhood, told Chabad.org that Benny had wide-ranging interests. He reportedly studied in a yeshiva in Israel and a kollel in Lakewood.
“Benny knows everything,” Bernholtz said. “He can quote the works of the great German playwrights and poets like Goethe and Schiller, and explained the most complex debates in the Talmud with relevant commentaries.”
Ilan Naibryf, 21, and Deborah Berezdivin, 21
In March, the University of Chicago awarded Ilan Naibryf and two classmates $15,000 for their startup, a financial technology company that enabled the purchase of goods and services with stock. Naibryf, an Argentina native raised in Hawaii, was a physics major and the past president of the university’s Chabad student center. He had just completed his third year when he and his girlfriend, Deborah Berezdivin, traveled to Surfside to attend the funeral of a family friend. Berezdivin’s family owned two units on the building’s eighth floor, according to The New York Times.
Berezdivin was a marketing major at George Washington University who was raised in Puerto Rico. She dreamed of working in luxury fashion, according to a report in El Nuevo Dia.
Linda March, 58
Linda March was not unusual in deciding to leave New York, her lifelong home, over the past year and relocate to Surfside. March, a lawyer with a strong Brooklyn accent, moved to Champlain Towers in search of a less cramped place to live near the beach.
Paula Silverman, a close friend who had texted with March just a few hours before the collapse, said March was looking to start over after becoming ill with COVID last year. March had lost a sister to cancer more than 10 years ago, then her parents not long afterward.
“She was young and ready for the next stage of her life. I can’t wrap my head around it,” Silverman told the The Jerusalem Post.
Silverman said her friend was a social person who cared about everyone and had a sense of humor that reminded her of Joan Rivers.
“She knew everyone. You’d walk down the street and you’d see her talking to the mailman, talking to everybody, giving out masks to everybody,” Silverman said. “A heart of gold.”
By Ben Harris, Shira Hanau