By: Chaim Halpert
On the morning of June 24th, 2021, a warm and sunny Thursday, we woke up to the disturbing news of the Surfside condo collapse of the Champlain Towers in Miami, Florida. The world was shaken by the devastating occurrence, and as the updates started to come in, the Lakewood community was shaken to its core. Benny and Malki Weisz, local Lakewood residents and members of the Coventry Square community, were among the many missing in the rubble of the collapse. The out-pour of spiritual support from the community was instinctive and immediate. Tehillim groups were set up minutes after the news broke and, late Friday afternoon, Rav Eliezer Gewirtzman, Dayan of the Coventry community, set up a Shas initiative to collectively finish Shas in Benny and Malki’s zchus. As the days rolled by and the rescue efforts continued to come up with no results, the growing collective concern and anxiety from within the community felt palpable. And yet, the Emunah and hope for good news remained strong as reminders to say Tehillim and learn in their zchus were posted every day.
Early on Friday morning July 9th, just over two weeks since the collapse, our worst fears were confirmed. Benny Weizs’s body was identified, his wife Malki was identified the next day.
“Benny was a fascinating individual,” Rav Gewirtzman told LNN. “He was educated and knowledgeable in many various things. He learned in Chevron and became a tremendous Talmud Chachom, involved in all areas of learning. He had a smile that lit up the room and simchas hachaim that one can only hope for.”
“He loved Torah, he would come to a kiddush and be so excited to share a vort with everybody, like an excitement to share news of a simchah” remarked a neighbor, “they had been living here for about seven months after moving from Eretz Yisroel. Unfortunately, they did not have children and were a bit more reserved, but Benny was just always smiling, always talking about being happy and trusting in Hashem and, from what I can tell, Malki was very much the same.”
“You can never tell if he was having a bad day, just always joyful,” said Zevi Hoffsteder, neighbor and longtime friend of Benny, “his presence was uplifting, you just couldn’t help but smile when you saw him. He had a challenging life, his father was niftar when he was young, and he was living in Eretz Yisroel after getting married with none of his family around him, but he was just always happy. We lived in the same area in Eretz Yisroel and learned together in Kollel Shoavei Mayim. Benny gave so many chaburahs, the rest of us couldn’t keep up.” When asked to recount his feelings after hearing of the news, Zevi was noticeably shaken. “My heart just dropped, we were shocked, in a daze, disbelief,” Zevi said, speaking for the rest of their friend group as well, “we couldn’t sleep for days, constantly checking for updates. I still can’t believe just a few weeks ago Benny was excitedly showing me a Sfas Emes, and now he’s just gone. We lost a spectacular friend, and the world lost a spectacular man.”
Any attempt to talk about, Malki was met with the same response, “Malki was an isha tznuya.” Perhaps that is as much that is needed to be said.
In the week following the discovery of the niftar, a Hachnosos Sefer Torah campaign was started to bring a Sefer Torah l’iluy nishmas Yisroel Tzvi Yosef ben Toiba (Benny) and Malka bas Sara Rochel (Malki) to the Coventry shul. In under 18 hours, the original goal of $100,000 was met, a testament to the overwhelming support from around the world. “I’m amazed, the amount of support pouring in is truly amazing” commented Yanky Fried, campaign organizer, and fellow Coventry Square resident. “I thought it would take a couple of days at least so I was shocked to see how quickly and willing people were to contribute.” Despite meeting the necessary funds for the Sefer Torah, the campaign is ongoing, with all additional contributions going to the Coventry Shul Chessed fund to support and provide financial assistance of fertility treatments and medical procedures within the Coventry community.
In the past two years, we have all gone through many difficulties. Life, as we were used to living, was turned upside down with the emergence of the Coronavirus. We, as a people, were taught some very valuable lessons. We were taught how to be resourceful, how to care for one another, how, as individuals and as a community, to rise up and be proactive in the helping of our neighbors and friends. Most importantly, we were reminded that there is a higher power that tugs at the strings of our world and that although we may not see the big picture and understand the grander plan, there is one. To the family and friends of Benny and Malki, there are no words that can bring true comfort and no amount of time that can fully heal this pain, but hopefully, the understanding and acceptance that there is a reason for everything and that the niftarim are surely among the tzadikim in Olam Habah, will we eventually be given a sense of peace. Hamakom y’nachem eschem b’soich shar avolei tzion v’yerushalayim.