After Surfside, Champlain Towers South survivor worries about paying for retirement
The money generated by funds, like the sale of the Champlain Towers South property in Surfside, will never be enough to fully compensate anyone for the magnitude of their losses. Miami-Dade Circuit Judge Michael Hanzman shared this sentiment several times during status hearing updates.
Hanzman will ultimately decide how to allocate the money to survivors who owned apartments in the building and to relatives of victims who died during the partial collapse of the building on June 24, 2021.
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Recently, he appointed a mediator to help lawyers representing victims of the Champlain Towers South condo collapse reach an agreement on how to divide the funds. A few weeks ago, Bruce Greer, the mediator, told Hanzman that they hadn’t made any progress, but he vowed not to give up. The court will receive an update at the next hearing on Wednesday, November 3.
Some of the survivors are retired, or approaching retirement, like Steve Rosenthal.
He is the son of two concentration camp survivors, Jacob and Miriam Rosenthal. Steven Vitto, a researcher at the Holocaust Survivors and Victims Resource Center, which is part of the National Holocaust Documentation Institute at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, searched for documents to learn more about the story of the Rosenthal family. Steve Rosenthal was born in 1949 in Germany and his parents traveled with him by boat from the German port city of Bremerhaven to Baltimore, Maryland in the same year.
Steve Rosenthal is 72 years old and had planned to sell his Surfside apartment in a few years, after paying his appraisal to complete the required repairs and improvements on the Champlain Towers South building. Now, with no home of his own, he worries about paying for his retirement.
Below is a transcript of his story, in his own words, edited for clarity.
ROSENTHAL: I am a survivor of the Champlain Tower collapse, unit number 705. It was a beautiful apartment with two bedrooms, two bathrooms, two balconies.
My parents are concentration camp survivors. I was born in Germany after the war. So now I’m a survivor – a double survivor. It’s a bit wild.
I moved to Surfside because I wanted some peace and quiet at night. South Beach was a bit too much for me and I was like, “Let me go to a quieter area. Surfside 20 years ago was fabulous. It was small, facing the ocean. The price was right. It was a perfect place.
The building was older, Jewish – Cuban Jew. But over time the building has changed a lot. Younger people were moving there. There were still older people, but it got younger every year. We met at the pool. We talked about politics. We talked about the building. Or we talked about sports. I trained with a lot of them in the gym.
So the night of [the building collapse on June 24] … coming back I was asleep and heard what I thought was the biggest thunderclap I have ever heard in my life – 100 times. That’s how loud it was, but I ‘been there, OK, it’s late June. It’s Miami. It’s wet. There’s going to be a very, very, very big storm that’s going to come here. Then I felt the bed shake and the room start to move. Five seconds later, debris begins to fall from the ceiling onto my face.
So I run into the living room and I can’t see anything because of the dust. I go to the front door to see what’s going on. When I open the door there is like a plume of smoke, gas, whatever, shoots me, rushes into the apartment, literally knocks me down.
I grabbed a grocery bag and went to the bedroom. I put on these jeans, I put on shoes. I grabbed two pairs of jeans, two T-shirts, two pairs of underwear, a belt. My two favorite pairs of shoes. My iPhone, my iPad, watches, my wallet, lotions and potions, and that was it.
Due to hurricane preparedness I’m aware of what you need to take with you and what you need if you need to take shelter elsewhere. I went out, opened the door again and saw that there was no escape. So now I’m on the balcony. We see all the firefighters arriving by the dozen. Even when you are on the aerial work platform, you don’t know that the building is going to fall on you at that point. I didn’t feel safe until I was across the street in a grassy field. I was like a zombie.
I have to give a person named Michael Capponi a lot of credit. His GM Global Empowerment mission saved our lives. He had a kit with an electric toothbrush and electric chargers. He handed out prepaid visa cards to each survivor and he distributed housewarming gifts of towels, sheets, pots, plates, cutlery and glasses.
I am semi-retired. Fully retired probably in a year or two.
Before this collapse, we had a record. And we were going to put $ 15 to $ 16 million into the building for upgrades. My apartment is now valued for, say, $ 700 to 750,000 [thousand]. When the building is finished with the improvements in two years, it will be worth maybe a million, $ 1.2 million. I had planned to sell it at 75, 76, retire to Boca or Century Village and live my golden years like that.
Now everything has changed completely. The problem now is we all thought the land would be sold, say for $ 120 million. There is $ 30 million property insurance, so there would be $ 150 million to split. The question becomes, how does this judge allocate the extra money? Is it shared among everyone? Is he just giving it to the heirs of the deceased?
The valuation therefore came down to $ 96.5 million. Now I don’t have enough. Social security and my IRA [individual retirement account] does not cover it if he only wants to give me what the evaluation evaluates my unit for.
I don’t have 20, 25 years of work ahead of me. I’m finished. This money is my future.
All that anxiety that we all had three or four months ago has just come back to our knees.
I woke up the other day with a sore back, you slept badly. Now I have to go to Amazon and buy a heating pad for $ 25. I had to buy furniture. It cost me thousands of dollars.
So I told the judge it was expensive, starting from scratch: “I just got my dustpan and broom last week. I’m still waiting for my bucket for my mop. It is very expensive, Your Honor.
I advertise. I work for a company called IGT Media Holdings / Prime Card, and we mainly do restaurant advertising. There had been COVID a year ago, so no money came in the door. The money just came out of my bank account.
People were just starting to get back to me this summer, saying, “Steve, okay, we’re open and we need to start advertising, setting aside space for the season when everyone’s going down.” … when the Champlain Towers collapsed. So it slowed down the work because my car collapsed. I lost my briefcase. I have lost all my working utensils. It was a punch for me.
The police called me to tell me that they had found something of mine. I say, “What did you find?”
“We have found your prayer shawl and your tefillin.”
“How did you know it was mine?” It’s like a hundred Jews living in this building. They all have tillers and tefillin. ”
So he said, “Well, your name is on the cover. S. Rosenthal, you can see it.”
This is the prayer shawl and tefillin that my parents gave me at my bar mitzvah. So I have had it for almost 60 years.
Tefillin is something that the Jewish people tie on their left arm or their right arm, if you’re left-handed, and they put it on their head and it makes you feel closer to God. The talis – it is a prayer shawl.
The miracle that I was saved and to find my talis and my tefillin… it is a message. My family was Orthodox, my father was very Orthodox. I went to a yeshiva when I was a child. So I grew up knowing all of this, but moved away from it. I walked away from it. I’m not getting religious … I don’t think so, tomorrow or whatever, but I’m closer to God now for sure.
I go to services at the Brickell Synagogue – the Rok Family Shul. I am the first there at 7:30 am. I haven’t found out why or what my goal is here. But it must be something. I’ll find him. It will come to me one day. It’s just going to hit me.