It’s been a year since that terrible night of June 24, 2021, when, at 1:25 a.m., the 12-story Champlain Towers South in Surfside collapsed. The images of the shambles of what was once a recognizable building in a small town of about 6,000 residents are still vivid — most of all, for bereaved families.
Even now, a year later, it is hard, perhaps even impossible, to comprehend how just another regular night in a vibrant South Florida community ended in a tragic calamity in which 98 people died, and claimed cherished possessions of hundreds others. My heart goes out to the families still going through this horrible tragedy, having endured weeks of anguish and sad news. Agony and pain became a big part of their lives.
People in the community, and beyond, were shaken to their core, including the state of Israel, for which I am proud to be the consul general in Florida. It’s well know how close we are, with eight weekly direct flights, prominent Jewish and Israeli communities, good ties on all leadership levels, thriving innovative economies and more. These make what I call the #theSunshineStates best friends.
I had just begun my tenure as consul general four days before the collapse. I barely knew anybody, but my sense of responsibility and commitment made me rush to the Surfside Community Center once I received the sobering call minutes after 2 a.m.
What had been a peaceful home to families had been transformed into an apocalyptic scene of devastation and suffering. I saw tremendous loss and loved ones in pain that can’t be fathomed. Still, immersed in the difficult reality, we saw the arduous work of local rescue teams and of neighbors helping each other. Countless civilians and first responders, did what they could to provide blankets, medicine, water and food. Some helped set up registration desks; others shared valuable emergency information.
I saw the leadership and courage of everybody involved: elected officials, fire and law enforcement responders, medical professionals and so many good Samaritans. The community, Jews and non-Jews, Israelis and non-Israelis, came together and showed us how to live up to the values of this wonderful country.
Hours after the collapse, I spoke to Yair Lapid, Israel’s minister of foreign affairs, and Dr. Nachman Shay, Israel’s minister of diaspora. We immediately provided the help of the consulate’s team and of the state of Israel in every way possible. We were on the ground from Day One and never left, physically or emotionally.
No effort was spared, including, making sure the Israeli search-and-rescue team arrived.
I saw the unbreakable bond between our countries and communities, a bond that resulted in the first-ever foreign military mission on U.S. soil. The fact that the Israel Defense Forces Search and Rescue Team arrived in Miami overnight to Miami — at 5:17 am — and was on site by 6:30 a.m., exemplifies, yet again, our sense of responsibility and commitment.
Israel is proud and humbled to have been given the privilege to give back if only a small fraction of the support that we get from the American people. We look forward to continue strengthening our bond during President Biden’s upcoming visit to Israel, and hope to welcome Gov. Ron DeSantis to Israel again.
Even if adversity befalls our nations, our shared values are a source of solace; they lead us and provide support and healing to our people. The people of Israel will always stand with the people of the United States.
Maor Elbaz-Starinsky is consul general of Israel in Miami.