Tania Hammer
Tania Hammer

Of tragedies and miracles


Thursday, June 24th, 2021 will be remembered by too many people as ‘The day The Champlain building in Surfside, Miami Beach collapsed killing 95 (to date)’. I was vacationing in Miami Beach with my nephew, we were about a mile down from that cataclysmic event. You would think we would have felt a rumble at 1:30am, but we didn’t. My phone, however, rumbled incessantly as I was waking up. I looked at over a dozen messages and so many more to follow, ‘Tania, tell me you are ok, are you alive?’ I could hear some were tearful. I Googled the event and sure enough, we drove past that building several times on our trip. I didn’t think I knew anyone in the building. It was a hard day, but we had a great vacation and left Miami Beach at the appointed time.

Little else was discussed over Shabbat in NY, I read articles about the event, none of them hopeful. But we never do know, do we? We as a People who have suffered so much over millennia, put on a good show of equal parts suffering and hopeful. There were reports of tremendous unity between shuls and churches, Miami Dade ambulance services and our beloved Hatzala, of people coming with ‘food for all’ as the families poured in to Miami, in hope, yet terrified at the plight of the victims.

On Sunday and Monday, Israel sent its very best…a team of 15 IDF search and rescue veterans, all seasoned in destruction and calamities, the likes of which most of us would stay away from. And a Psycho Trauma unit from United Hatzala, Israel, replete with a cute dog. As these teams settled in and got the lay of the land and the demolished building, Colonel Golan Vach led the IDF team, he had been on several other rescue missions and was uniquely qualified to address the families as well as the devastation and destruction.

The days went on and it became clear that the search and rescue element tragically became search and recovery. Tehillim was said around the clock all over the world. That’s when I heard about family friends from Sydney, Tzvi and Itty Ainsworth who had an apartment in the Champlain building. Tehillim was said for them in my tehillim group. I am friends with Tzvi’s sisters, this news hurt.

People in Miami got to know Colonel Vach. He prayed 3 times a day at the makeshift shul on the site, where the Ainsworth children – all adults with families – prayed, hoping they would have news of their parents, gradually hoping the team would recover their bodies to bury, necessary closure for grieving people. Colonel Vach spoke to all the Champlain  families, Jewish and not Jewish, helping them along this tortuous path of grief and the unknown. He reassured each family that at no time did anyone suffer, the collapse was so quick and sudden.

On Wednesday July 7, Colonel Golan Vach pulled out bodies. Two of them were Tzvi and Itty Ainsworth. Itty was speaking to a mutual friend of ours on Wednesday night June 23rd. Itty was telling her that she had to sleep, she was getting up extra early for a dawn swim at the beach followed by her newest granddaughter’s baby naming at shul on Thursday, as is traditional for baby girls. This was the last person Itty spoke to. Morning prayers on Thursday June 24 looked very different. There was no naming, no simcha.

Although the colonel and his team had finished their tour of duty, he had one more sacred mission to accomplish. The Ainsworth children asked Colonel Vach if he would like the honor of being called up to the Torah to bequeath the tiniest baby Ainsworth with a name, after all, she had waited over two weeks. ‘This is my shlichut, to give this family comfort at their time of deepest sorrow’. Dressed in mourning garments, all the children went to the makeshift shul to hear the baby’s name, so called out by Colonel Vach. Her name is Itta, after her dear grandmother, who left this world in her prime, enjoying her family and community.

That afternoon, the colonel and his 14 soldiers left Miami in good hands, their work was done. They will be in contact with the Miami recovery teams over Zoom and I’m quite sure with the Ainsworth family as well. A bond like that cannot be broken. The team was given a grand farewell, all the families and Miami forces came out to thank them for their tremendous efforts. The team was singing Ani Maamin…I believe with complete faith that Mashiach will come.’ It was a beautiful, haunting clip.

God has been sending us cryptic messages about structures lately. All of them are devastating in so many ways. ‘What does this mean?’ we all ask. Sometimes God provides us with a little wink among the dust and dirt, like baby Itty, born to parents who are now orphans, ensuring these children that Tzvi and Itty are never far from them, just in a smaller package. Although the unfathomable happened, there is hope among our people. All babies are miracles, but baby Itty restores our faith in God. She is the Champlain building’s family miracle. She provides hope, even in the darkest days.

Rest in peace dear Tzvi and Itty, you primed your children well to look after our future generation.

About the Author
Tania grew up in Sydney, Australia, moved to NY when she was 22 and found herself in Israel for her 50th birthday - an Aliyah dream come true! She works at a gallery in Jerusalem and is a student of life...Tania is an Orthodox woman with a progressive take on Torah. She started a popular Facebook group for Anglo divorcees and widow/ers called SDEI. But her crowning glory is her daughter on whose footsteps she followed to come to Israel.
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