June 18, 2024
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Miracles and Inspiration

Highlighting: ‘Center Stage: Incredible Stories and the People Behind Them’ by C.B. Weinfeld. ArtScroll/Mesorah Publications.

C.B. Weinfeld knows people. And she knows how to tell a fantastic story. In Center Stage, she brings us stories that engage and inspire us; stories that sometimes surprise and often elevate us; stories that rekindle our belief in others and enhance our own optimism and simcha. The following is a story from the upcoming release.

Miracle in Surfside

(Courtesy of Artscroll) On Thursday, June 24 at about 1:25 a.m., Champlain Towers South, an iconic twelve-story beachfront condo in Surfside, Florida, partially collapsed, instantly killing ninety-eight people, many of them Yidden. The heartbreaking tragedy shook up the Jewish world and united klal Yisrael like never before.

Here is the true story of one young man who was saved through an incredible set of circumstances that had begun many years earlier. Some names and details have been changed to protect the privacy of the family.

Monday, June 21, 2021

It was just two weeks before his wedding. Matan was in a whirlwind of frenzied preparations.

The young businessman had spent the last few weeks in Eretz Yisrael, busy from morning until night with the arrangements. He helped his kallah, Shira, find an apartment and set it up.

It was time to go home, to spend the remaining days before his wedding with his family, who lived in a beachfront home in Miami. He had lots to do in preparation for the big day, including shopping and packing up his possessions. Although his parents lived in the Miami Beach area, he had been living in their second apartment, at Champlain Towers South in bucolic Surfside.

Matan, who had been in shidduchim for years, was thrilled to be getting married, and very grateful to the One Above for uniting him with his bashert. His family, back home, was equally ecstatic to share in his joy.

On the final day of his whirlwind trip, as he was heading to the airport, Matan realized that his kallah, Shira, was preoccupied. “Is everything all right?” he asked. “Is it something I said or did?”

“No, it’s nothing,” said Shira. “I’m just feeling a bit overwhelmed, because there still is so much to do. Are you really sure you can’t push off your trip?”

“Push off my trip?” It was barely two weeks before the wedding, and Matan had a lot of loose ends to tie up in Miami. Still, it was obvious that his kallah needed his help. He hesitated for a moment, weighing his options, and called his mother to ask her opinion.

“If your kallah needs your help, of course you must stay another few days,” his mother said. “Don’t think twice about the expense. Just cancel your ticket and book a new one for next Sunday.”

The relief in Shira’s eyes when he delivered the news made it all worthwhile. Matan realized that he had, indeed, done the right thing, even though it threw a monkey wrench into his plans. He needed to pack up his apartment in Surfside and ship his possessions, but that could wait another few days. No big deal.

Little did he realize that the decision to extend his stay in Eretz Yisrael saved him from an unthinkable fate. For that Wednesday night, shortly after midnight, the entire building where Matan had been living trembled and suddenly pancaked, trapping the sleeping residents inside under several hundred tons of crushed concrete. The tragedy capped off a four-week recovery process, as the victims and their remains were extricated, many of them brought to kever Yisrael.

Shortly after news of the mass tragedy spread, Matan’s family members rushed to the site of the collapse. They stared in mute horror at the remains of the once-prestigious building, where a second-floor apartment had been their beloved vacation home for nearly eighteen years. Their hearts were broken at the knowledge of their longtime friends and neighbors who were missing in the rubble, and for whom the rescuers held out only the faintest hope.

At the same time, their gratitude for the miracle, that their Matan, the chatan, was alive and well, was beyond measure. And then they realized the extent of the miracle: Were it not for Shira’s insistence that Matan stay another few days to help with the wedding preparations, an insistence that was uncharacteristic of her, he would likely be yet another casualty of the collapse.

Before long, a crowd of friends and relatives joined Matan’s family at their Miami home, just to be there with them during this poignant time and celebrate this most bittersweet miracle. Everyone had their own conjectures about what happened, and what merits Matan must have had accrued in order to be spared.

Yet, Matan’s mother brushed away their suggestions, as she had an incredible story of her own to share. A hush fell over the crowd as his mother related a story that occurred nearly two decades earlier, which she felt was directly connected to her son’s salvation.

**

You are all probably wondering in what zechut my precious Matan was spared from this horrific tragedy. Though I am not a prophetess, and don’t have the ability to fathom the calculations in Heaven, I want to share a true story that happened when Matan was a little boy.

Back in 1981, shortly after we bought our home in Miami, my husband and I heard of several available apartments in the highly desired Surfside area. Construction of the building was well underway, and apartments were very affordable at the time. We immediately made an appointment to see the apartments, which were built on the main thoroughfare of Collins Avenue, overlooking the beach.

To our incredible delight, the apartments were truly magnificent, offering wonderful amenities and a sweeping 360-degree view of the ocean. There was one penthouse apartment, located on the top floor, which was especially breathtaking. Although this apartment was slightly more expensive than the others, the incredible view made it all worthwhile.

My husband and I looked at each other and made a decision: this apartment would be ours. We would use it as a second home, an escape from the pressures of everyday life, and also to host our numerous year-round visitors. Although we were very comfortable in our Miami Beach home, there was something soothing and relaxing about this penthouse apartment, tucked away in peaceful Surfside.

We spoke with the real estate agent and made arrangements to wire a down payment for the apartment, which we had reserved. However, before we could go through with our plans, I realized there was an issue. Purchasing a twelfth-floor apartment meant that we would need to avail ourselves of the Shabbat elevator, as going up and down twelve flights of stairs was both exhausting and impractical.

Many of our friends and acquaintances owned high-rise apartments, and had received a heter to use Shabbat elevators. Despite that, I had my doubts. After much discussion, we decided to consult with a prominent rabbi in Israel to discuss our reservations.

We put the plan to buy the apartment on hold for a few days, and tried to get in touch with the rabbi, who had a very busy schedule. My husband kept calling, until he was given a few moments on the phone with the great sage. He listened to our dilemma and didn’t interrupt until we were done. Then the rabbi said, “It’s hard for me to tell you what to do, especially since I am not in your shoes. In certain situations, one can be lenient, especially when one has no choice.

“However,” he stressed, his voice clear and confident, “I can promise you one thing. If you make this sacrifice for the holy Shabbat, and purchase an apartment on a lower floor, avoiding the need for a Shabbat elevator, your gesture will be appreciated on High. I give you my assurance that the Shabbat Queen will ensure that you are amply repaid, not only in the next world, but in this world as well.”

The rabbi’s powerful words made a deep impression on us, and we resolved to modify our plans. Instead of purchasing the penthouse apartment, we would buy an apartment on the second floor, which didn’t have the beautiful view, but which was accessible via a stairway. The real estate broker kept asking us if we were sure, if we didn’t want to change our mind. “These penthouse apartments are going quickly. If you change your mind, it may be too late.”

Despite the pressure, I didn’t waver for a moment. I had made my decision to honor the holy Shabbat properly, regardless of what I needed to sacrifice.

And indeed, we bought the second-floor apartment, which was beautiful and sunny, and which we used for many years as a vacation/guest house. When Matan grew up he wanted his independence, and asked us if he could stay in the apartment until he found his bashert. Of course, we immediately agreed, and Matan moved in two weeks later. Aside from his business travels, he has been staying at the apartment, which is his home base, ever since.

So now, my dear friends, do you understand the significance of what happened? The rav’s powerful words keep echoing in my mind. As the rav said, “I give you my assurance that the Shabbat Queen will ensure that you are amply repaid, not only in the next world, but in this world as well.”

Sometimes, we feel like martyrs, sacrificing something important, not realizing how much we are receiving in return.

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