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Jewish faith fuels hope and outreach after Surfside collapse

World28 minutes ago (Jun 30, 2021 06:42AM ET)

(C) Reuters. Volunteers pack boxes of donated goods to deliver to families of victims in Surfside, Florida, U.S. June 29, 2021. REUTERS/Katanga Johnson


By Katanga Johnson

SURFSIDE, Fla. (Reuters) – Hundreds have gathered every day at The Shul of Bal Harbour, a synagogue near the Florida condominium complex that partially collapsed last week, to pray that survivors will be found.

Other members of Surfside’s Jewish community have offered food, water and emotional support to search and rescue teams digging into the rubble of the 12-story Champlain Towers South.

Both responses are rooted in the Jewish faith, a source of hope and of strength to help others cope.

“There’s no rationality nor level of human intellect that can in any way encompass the enormity of what has happened here in Surfside, but this community believes that miracles are still possible. God has not changed,” Rabbi Sholom Lipskar, The Shul’s founder, said on Tuesday as search-and-rescue operations stretched into a sixth day. The official death toll stood at 12, with 149 people reported missing.

Lipskar said he had the same message for those whose loved ones were killed and those awaiting word of the missing: “Believe in the soul, which is eternal and has a home outside of this world.”

Rabbi Aryeh Citron, who regularly leads services in his Surfside home, said it was not time to mourn the missing.

“According to Jewish law, if there is a situation where people are lost and their fate is not yet known, we do not begin mourning. We continue to search until we find them,” Citron said. “We only begin mourning after we find them …. In that sense, mourning has not yet started for most people who remain behind in Surfside.”

Numerous members of Lipskar’s synagogue and Citron’s circle are among those missing. The shul and Citron’s home are both within a mile of the disaster scene.

Aryeh Citron’s wife, Channy, has been working with Jewish volunteers who have been supporting first responders. She said she sees the whole community beginning to accept that they may not see their friends and loved ones again.

“The world is run by God, and he has a plan that you may or may not understand,” she said. “Everybody in their own time will have to accept this. Otherwise, life is just random and that would be more terrifying.”

Marie Hamaoui, a physics teacher at Stanford University’s Online High School, spent time on Tuesday sorting kosher and non-kosher food at a donation center set up at the Town of Surfside Community Center, and toting canisters of coffee to vans delivering supplies to first responders.

“The likelihood of any further survivors is not very high,” Hamaoui said. “People are waiting for confirmation of death and then the retrieval of as many of the body parts as possible. Then families can begin the proper process of mourning.”

Jewish faith fuels hope and outreach after Surfside collapse

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