Tributes to Seven Victims of Surfside Building Collapse

(Chabad.org) -

The bodies of an additional seven Jewish victims of the collapse of the Champlain Tower have been identified: Benny and Malki Weisz, Ilan Naibryf, Deborah Berezdivin, Dr. Gary Cohen, Nicole Langesfeld and Luis Sadovnic.

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Benny Weisz, 32, and Malki Weisz, 27, of Lakewood, N.J., had just flown into Surfside, Fla., the night of the Champlain Tower collapse. The couple, married for five years, came to visit Malki’s father, Chaim Rosenberg, and spend Shabbos with him in his new apartment. Benny Weisz was identified as a victim of the tragedy on July 9. His father-in-law had been identified a few days earlier. His wife was found on Shabbos afternoon.

The levayah will take place on Sunday afternoon, 1:00 p.m. at the Republic Airport in East Farmingdale. The kevurah will take place at Wellwood Cemetery.

Benny, a native of Vienna, Austria, was one of two children born to Dyuri and Tina Weisz. Dyuri, who passed away several years ago, worked at Alvorada Wiener Coffee, a family-owned business.

A friend of the family, Chana Weiser, a Chabad-Lubavitch emissary with Chabad of Austria, said Benny, along with his older brother, Danny, were “very refined people who live their Jewish values.”

Shushy Bernholtz, a childhood classmate and life-long friend of Benny, described him as “a diverse person of many talents, with a huge heart.”

“Benny knows everything,” said Bernholtz. “He can quote the works of the great German playwrights and poets like Goethe and Schiller and explain the most complex debates in the Talmud with relevant commentaries,” he said.

After studying at the Chevron Yeshivah in the Givat Mordechai neighborhood of Yerushalayim where he and Bernholtz were roommates, Weisz went on to study computer science at King’s College in London. After his marriage to Malki Rosenberg, the couple moved to Lakewood, where he worked in finance and studied in a local kollel.

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Ilan Naibryf, a physics major and entrepreneur at the University of Chicago who was past president of his school’s campus Chabad center was identified on July 9 as a victim of the Champlain Tower building collapse. He was in Florida attending the funeral of a family friend who had died of COVID.

“Ilan was a scholar, entrepreneur and admired campus leader,” wrote University of Chicago Provost Ka Yee C. Lee and Dean of Students Michele Rasmussen in a message to the school, noting that Ilan was a physics major with a minor in molecular engineering and was active within the campus community.

“He also was co-founder and CEO of STIX Financial, a 2021 College New Venture Challenge finalist, served as president of the Chabad House student board, was a former member of the men’s track and field team, and was active in recreational soccer. He will be greatly missed,” the statement said.

“Ilan was upbeat, always smiling,” said Rabbi Yossi Brackman, director of Rohr Chabad Center at the University of Chicago and Hyde Park. “He was very studious; an innovator who was in the middle of making a startup, hardworking and very friendly. He was an all-around great guy.”

Brackman and his wife, Baila, first learned that Ilan was among the missing from one of his friends, who contacted them on the day of the disaster. They immediately went to work. Baila Brackman reached out to Ilan’s family and to students who make up their community, gathering together with them on Zoom to recite Tehillim and to pray for those who remained unaccounted for. The Brackmans continue to provide ongoing support for Ilan’s many friends at the school who are devastated by the loss.

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Friends describe 21-year-old Deborah Berezdivin as an “old soul,” passionate about friendship, art, conversation, life, and Jewish observance. A native of Puerto Rico, she was in Florida attending the funeral of a family friend who had died of COVID. She was identified as a victim of the Champlain Tower collapse on July 9.

Mushka Lipskier, co-director of Chabad at Tulane Undergrad, where Berezdivin had been an architecture student, describes her as being “super kind and warm to people around her.”

On her first day at Tulane, Berezdivin and her parents, Jeff and Clara, visited the Chabad House and requested a mezuzah for her dorm room.

Throughout her time in Tulane, Berezdivin attended Shabbos at Chabad on a weekly basis, lighting candles and enjoying the company of her fellow Jews, especially the many Spanish-speakers among them, whom Lipskier describes as a “family unit.”

According to Rabbi Mendel Zarchi, director of Chabad of Puerto Rico, her paternal grandparents are among the founders of Jewish life in the territory, steeped in Jewish tradition, values, and generosity. On her mother’s side, her grandparents are pillars of Judaism in their home country of Costa Rica.

An active volunteer, she would often be found at Chabad on Thursday nights and Fridays, baking challah, preparing salads, and plating food for as many as 300 students who would show up on a Friday night.

Just before the onset of the COVID lockdowns, she and her friend Rebecca Lubin were active in arranging an intergenerational event connecting local Holocaust survivors with students, in tandem with Chabad and the local JCC. The event never took place, and Berezdivin soon transferred to GWU in the fall of 2020.

Yet, even after she left Tulane, the two continued to study Torah with Lipskier over Zoom.

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The tight-knit Jewish community of Birmingham, Ala., has been united in grief upon learning that Dr. Gary (Tzvi Nosson Hakohen) Cohen had died under the piles of rubble in the Surfside condominium collapse.

A consummate student of Torah, he loved nothing more than to share his studies with others, refining his understanding through hearing others’ perspectives.

A physiatrist who was originally from Dix Hills, N.Y., he had relocated to Alabama, living in Birmingham and practicing in the Tuscaloosa VA Medical Center.

Inspired by his younger brother Brad, as well as the rabbis and congregants at Chabad of Alabama, he had embraced more and more Jewish practice, all the while deepening his knowledge and understanding of Torah.

“In recent years, Judaism has taken an increasingly central place in the lives of Gary and Mindy Cohen,” says Rabbi Yossi Friedman, program director at Chabad of Alabama. Dedicated to keeping Shabbos, and determined not to drive on the sacred day of rest, they either observed it alone at home, which is too far to walk to the Chabad center, or with friends, who live closer to Chabad.

Obtaining kosher food is also quite challenging in Alabama, a state with a tiny observant population and no kosher dining options, yet the Cohens gladly kept a kosher home.

“Gary was always coming over to me and sharing what he learned online or had read,” says Freidman. “With a unique persistence, he would always probe, ask, debate and discover. He was not shy about sharing his understanding, but he was always willing to listen to others and concede to them when he thought they were right. It was amazing to watch him grow and learn.”

In Florida to visit his parents, he was spending time together with his brother in a condominium on the 11th floor of the Champlain Towers South at the time of the collapse. Gary’s remains were discovered in the rubble on Wednesday, while Brad’s fate is still unknown.

In addition to his wife and brother, Gary Cohen is survived by his parents, Morton and Deborah Cohen, and sons, Jarred (Stephanie) and Seth Cohen.

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Nicole Langesfeld, an American with Argentine roots, married Luis Sadovnic, a young man from Venezuela studying at the University of Florida in Gainesville, Fla. in January 2021, on the beach in front of his grandmother’s 8th floor apartment in Champlain Tower South, which they moved into.

Part of the tight-knit South American Jewish community at the University of Florida, Luis was popular with many of his fellow students.

“Luis had an amazing rapport with other students,” says Rabbi Berl Goldman, co-director of Chabad at UF. “Luis stood at the center of an almost family-like group of young proud Jews.”

Nicole Langesfeld was identified as a victim of the tragedy on July 10. Luis Slavonic was identified as a victim of the tragedy on July 11.

Known for their humor and passion for physical fitness, friends recall their love of exploring new places and things and ever present smiles. Co-workers in the Miami branch of Reed Smith, where Nicole worked as an associate, describe her as a clever lawyer with a high work ethic.

Noah Goldberg told The Washington Post that Nicole was very funny and cared deeply about her friends. An example he shared was how on the day before the collapse Goldberg didn’t feel well, and Nicole called and texted him at 9:45 p.m. to ask how he was feeling. Her building collapsed just a few short hours later.

 


Updated Sunday, July 11, 2021 at 10:15 am .

Updated Sunday, July 11, 2021 at 12:26 pm .