Tragedy in Surfside: Obituaries of the Victims of the Building Collapse

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Stacie Fang, with her son, Jonah Handler.

Profiles and remembrances of those who lost their lives

By: Chabad.org Staff

As search and rescue teams continue their heroic efforts to locate survivors of the collapse last Thursday morning of a 12-story oceanfront condominium in Surfside, Fla., the names of victims are being released to the public after identification and notification of the families.

Prayers and good deeds continue around the world for those who are still missing, in memory of those who have passed, and in support of their loved ones.

Here are brief profiles and recollections of those who lost their lives. Readers are invited to include additional recollections in the response box following this article. May their memories be for a blessing.

 

Stacie Fang, 54, of Surfside: Vice President for Customer Relationships

The first victim identified after the tragic Surfside Building Collapse was Stacie Fang. A beloved mother, community member and businesswoman, she lived in the Champlain Tower.

In the moments after the devastating collapse, Nicholas Balboa, a Surfside resident who was passing by the building on his midnight walk, heard a desperate cry for help and saw hands reaching through the debris. Miraculously, it was Jonah Handler, Stacie’s 15 year old son, who emerged from the wreckage, devastated, but alive. His mother’s whereabouts were not known until she was identified in the rubble.

A native of New York City, where she studied business administration at Pace University, she worked for the past decade at the Surfside-based Customer Relationship Management Conference, where she served as Vice President.

“There are no words to describe the tragic loss of our beloved Stacie. The members of the Fang and Handler families would like to express our deepest appreciation for the outpouring of sympathy, compassion and support we have received,” said a family statement. “The many heartfelt words of encouragement and love have served as a much-needed source of strength during this devastating time.”

Stacie was laid to rest in a touching service on Tuesday morning, in the presence of her son, family and friends.

 

Leon Oliwkowicz, 81, and Ruth Oliwkowicz, 74 of Surfside: Donated Torah Scroll in Chicago

Leon Oliwkowicz donated a Torah scroll in 2019 to the Lubavitch Mesivta (High School) of Chicago.

Leon Oliwkowicz, 81, and Ruth Oliwkowicz, 74, were among the first victims to have been confirmed by authorities as having been killed in the tragic Champlain Towers collapse in Surfside, Fla. Originally from Venezuela, the couple moved to Florida in recent years to be near their children, who had moved to the United States.

Rabbi Moshe B. Perlstein, dean of the Lubavitch Mesivta of Chicago, says that the couple had an air of modest sophistication about them. Leon Oliwkowicz, a businessman and entrepreneur in Venezuela, was a very upbeat person and took tremendous pride from watching his children and grandchildren thrive. “He was extremely giving and was always looking to help a fellow human being.”

Mrs. Leah Rivka Perlstein, principal emeritus at Cheder Lubavitch Girls School of Chicago, says that Ruth Oliwkowicz was a very refined, unassuming woman who “wasn’t looking to be in the limelight. She was dedicated to her children and grandchildren and loved spending quality time with them when she visited Chicago.”

Noting that Leon Oliwkowicz proudly spoke an impeccable Yiddish, the rabbi says: “I couldn’t quite keep up with his Yiddish, the vocabulary that he used was so sophisticated.”

In 2019, the Oliwkowiczes donated a Torah scroll to the Mesivta where their son-in-law and daughter, Rabbi Bezalel and Leah Fouhal, are active supporters. At the event, celebrated with a grand procession in the West Rogers Park neighborhood, Mr. Oliwkowicz spoke in Yiddish, blessing the participants with continued health and longevity. “Moshe Rabbeinu (Moses) lived until 120 ripe years of age,” he joked.

Rabbi Levi Stern, a teacher at the Lubavitch Mesivta, had the opportunity to get to know Leon Oliwkowitz when he had stayed at the Stern’s home in Chicago: “He was a varemer Yid (warm-hearted Jew),” he says. “He had a sense of pride when he spoke Yiddish and was pleased to see that we spoke Yiddishin our home. He had a quick witted sense of humor and always looked at others with a good eye.”

The Oliwkowiczes were members of The Shul of Bal Harbour.

They are survived by their children and their grandchildren.

 

Nancy Kress Levin, 76; Jay Kleiman, 51; Frank Kleiman, 55: Family Fled Castro’s Cuba

Nancy Kress Levin with her sons, Jay and Frank Kleiman.

Having left Cuba following the 1959 Communist revolution, Nancy Kress Levin and her two sons, Frank and Jay Kleiman, joined the Jewish community in Puerto Rico. Later moving to Florida, they settled in Surfside’s Champlain Towers, a building popular with Jewish Cuban emigres, in the 1980s. Nancy became a beloved member of The Shul community with her late husband, Lawrence Levin, and was known for being a doting “Abuela.”

Frank Kleiman lived on the same 7th floor of Champlain Towers South as his mother, with his wife of three weeks, Ana, and her son, Luis, both of who remain missing. A father of four, and known for being the joyful life of the party, Frank Kleiman had just launched Private Postal Systems after a career as a sales manager at Zesnah, a sports apparel brand. His remains were recovered on June 28th.

Jay Kleiman returned to Puerto Rico as an adult to join his father’s garment business, but returned to Surfside in recent weeks for the funeral of a friend lost to the coronavirus, and was staying with his mother on the night of its devastating collapse. Jay was a musician who released three albums, the latest of which and first in over a decade, “All the Voices in My Head,” debuted just a short three months before the tragic accident.

“It is so tragic that he flew in for a friend who died from COVID complications, and ended up there,” Mark Baranek, a friend in the community, told the Miami Herald.

Deborah Berezdivin, a cousin of the Kleimans, remains among the missing.

 

Michael Altman, 50: Loving Father and Accountant

Michael Altman

The penthouse floor apartment in Champlain Towers South had been in his family for almost four decades by the time Michael Altman moved in back in 2015. Michael was one of the earlier victims of the building’s devastating collapse identified by recovery teams.

Born in Costa Rica, Michael moved to the United States when he was a toddler. He was an accountant by trade, and was remembered by his son Nicholas as a fighter with a keen sense of humor.

“Always smiling, he was very fun and loved to tell jokes,” Nicholas Altman told the Miami Herald. “He conquered a lot of obstacles in his life, and always came out on top. He always inspired my brother and I to be successful in life.”

Michael is survived by his sons Nicholas and Jeffrey, and his parents Alan and Anita Altman.

“He was a great father, and a great son to my grandparents,” said Nicholas.

    (www.Chabad.org)