I have been closely following the devastating and heart-wrenching demise of the Champlain Towers in Surfside, Florida ever since the tragedy occurred, so after watching the first game of the NBA Finals on Tuesday night (unfortunately, no Lakers this year), I switched over to CNN to see if there were any updates. There on the screen, being interviewed by Anderson Cooper, was Lt. Yuval Klein, in a full Israeli Defense Force uniform, the Israeli flag prominently displayed on his left shoulder. Of all the possible spokespeople who could have been chosen to represent this search and rescue effort on a major news network, they chose an Israeli. Jews show up.
Lt. Klein is one of a dozen or so Israeli soldiers who rapidly deployed to Florida within days of the building collapse, going straight from the airport to the site, spending countless hours helping lead the rescue effort. To prepare for the operation, Unit 9900 of the Israeli army’s intelligence directorate, which specializes in visual intelligence, studied the structure of Champlain Tower and built 3D models of the 40-year-old high-rise while still in Israel. The team then carefully replicated the manner in which the tower appeared to have collapsed to understand how to excavate the site with the highest probability of finding survivors. The most important part of their work, according to the IDF officers, has been their interaction with family members. Their goal is to find out as much information as they can about the victims. They asked family members for pictures, for stories about their loved ones, to share with them even the smallest of details about each condominium – the type of artwork hanging on the walls, the placement of family mementos, if someone usually slept in front of the TV or if children liked to sleep in the room with their parents - all so that as objects are found in the wreckage, they can be used as markers to determine the estimated location of certain apartments and even specific rooms.
According to Diaspora Affairs Minister Nachman Shai, who flew to Florida following the disaster, Israel’s presence at the scene reflects both Israel’s responsibility for Jewish communities abroad and its commitment to its relationship with the United States. Israeli forces are also in Florida to reciprocate American support for the Jewish state, said Shai, because Israeli humanitarian assistance is “what friendship and alliances are all about.” In addition to the Israeli presence at the site, other local Jewish organizations mobilized to set up field kitchens to serve meals to rescue workers, provide them with supplies, and express solidarity and support for their efforts. Others have created financial and emotional support systems for the families of victims. Jews show up.
The recovery efforts at the Champlain Towers serves as yet another reminder that as Jews, we show up. We show up to care for our family and friends, but we also show up to care for the stranger, the widow, and the orphan. No matter how challenging our day, our week, or our year, we must tap into that deeply ingrained Jewish passion for showing up. And if each of us were to do that, just think about the Promised Land we could all create.
PS – This is not the only example of Israel’s commitment to ‘showing up’ for worldwide disaster relief. Below you’ll find other examples:
August, 1953: Ionian Islands, Greece. An earthquake claimed more than 1,000 lives. Israeli Navy ships were participating in an exercise in the area. They helped the survivors and gave them necessary medical treatment.
September, 1985: Mexico City, Mexico. Four earthquakes took more than 10,000 lives. The IDF sent a delegation of medical and search and rescue teams, consisting of 350 reservists.
July, 1994: Buenos Aires, Argentina. Hezbollah orchestrated the terror attack on the AMIA Building, the headquarters of the Jewish community, claiming 85 lives. Israelis were on the scene almost immediately.
August, 1998: Nairobi, Kenya. A car bomb exploded near the U.S. Embassy. An Israel Defense Forces task force of 170 people, including search and rescue teams and medical experts, came to the scene. They were able to rescue three survivors.
August, 2005, New Orleans, Louisiana. Hurricane Katrina. Israel sent 80 tons of humanitarian aid.
January, 2006: Nairobi, Kenya. A five-story building collapsed. Israel sent a team of 80 search and rescue personnel to assist with the rescue efforts.
November, 2012: Accra, Ghana. A large department store collapsed. An IDF Home Front Command delegation arrived to help with the relief effort, and they were able to rescue 78 people from the debris.
September, 2017: Mexico City, Mexico. An earthquake shook the city. A delegation of 70 men and women of the IDF came to help in relief efforts.