This tiny kosher kitchen is working day and night to feed Surfside after the collapse

Dina Brookmyer, right, with her husband, Jordan, were visiting from Baltimore when they decided to volunteer at the kosher kitchen at the Surfside Community Center, which has been cooking thousands of meals a day to rescue workers and families of those affected by the Champlain Towers condo collapse. CARLOS FRÍAS cfrias@miamiherald.com

It became clear to Eli Ginsburg what he had to do when families started showing up at the Surfside Community Center, desperate to hear from loved ones missing in the condo collapse. Chaplains consoled them. Rescue workers shuffled in and out. Police officers rotated shifts. Hours passed. And the only thing any of them had to eat were prepackaged snack foods and pizza delivery — none of it kosher, a specific need for a community with many Jewish residents. “I thought, ‘We’ve got a kosher kitchen right here,’ ” Ginsburg said. Ginsburg holds the lease for the tiny restaurant at the community center, the Surf -N- Sides, which had been closed for the last year because of coronavirus restrictions. But in hours’ time, he had partnered with a local activist, Joe Zevuloni, teamed with a nonprofit, conscripted local chefs, and together with a tireless stream of volunteers in bright orange vests, they have been cooking thousands of hot meals out of a space that is technically a snack bar at the edge of a community pool.

The kitchen has run nonstop, day and night, since the morning after the collapse. Golf carts deliver meals to families and evacuees holed up in nearby hotels and to exhausted rescue workers at the site of the Champlain Towers collapse, even as shifts change throughout the night. “We decided we’re going to stay open and feed all these workers, all these people, all through the night, 24-7,” Ginsburg said. “I want to take care of everybody out there.”


It’s late afternoon when a local rabbi, covered in a black poncho to stave off sudden open faucets of rain, shuffles through a side gate of the community center to observe the Surf -N- Sides, a requirement of a kosher kitchen.

Jordan Brookmyer, a volunteer who was visiting from Baltimore, cooks chicken fajitas for kosher meals being made at the Surfside Community Center. Carlos Frías cfrias@miamiherald.com

He arrives in time to witness a group of volunteers from the Jewish outreach organization Yedidim scrambling to fill in a new order. A hotel where families are staying five blocks north needs 200 meals for dinnertime.

Chef Jay Beck, who walked up as a volunteer on the day of the collapse and has gone home to his Miami Beach apartment only to sleep, leads a sudden and organized chaos. A lifelong chef who owns a catering company and ghost kitchens, Beck is used to serving hundreds at a time at banquet halls. Now he trains volunteers on the fly to act as line cooks. Some are wearing open-toe shoes (a no-no for anyone manning food out of a hot fryer) and others only know how to hold a knife.

Yet the day before, during one 24-hour period, the kitchen cooked and distributed a staggering 3,000 meals, Ginsburg said, most of them feeding people without kosher needs. It was Ginsburg’s goal to make the food they were cooking accessible to everyone, with or without religious restrictions.

“The ‘wow’ factor is that it’s coming out of that,” Beck added, pointing at the Surf -N- Sides.


The kitchen is little more than a galley, a curved walkway inside a round building, less than 15 feet long, lined on either side with restaurant appliances: a double oven, two deep fryers, a flat-top grill and two prep areas.

Inside, Ziva Tawil, volunteering from Aventura, pulls a tray of sizzling salmon, redolent of paprika and olive oil, out of a double oven. Beside her, Jordan Brookmyer tosses grilled chicken slices with peppers and onions for chicken fajitas, as his wife, Dina, packs them into white foam containers with fluffy scoops of white rice. The couple flew in from Baltimore for a long-planned vacation Monday and walked in to volunteer.

Next to them, Dina Schwartz stuffs burgers into warm pita bread with lettuce, tomato and onions. Other containers get heaping servings of baba ganoush, hummus and warm bread.

“You see what’s going on here: Love, comfort, empathy,” says Tawil, who was born in Israel. “This is the nature of our people.”

Gloria Segura, left, and Leat Ruben Unger pack kosher meals for delivery at the Surfside Community Center. Carlos Frías cfrias@miamiherald.com


Outside, another thunderstorm thickens the humidity that mixes with the aroma of grilled garlic and onions as Dina Brookmyer passes closed containers of food through a window to Vanessa Arrua. Under a tent, she and Gloria Segura — both elementary school teachers at Mater Beach Academy directly across from the collapsed condo — seal each container with a strip of tape signifying the meal has been certified kosher by the Orthodox Rabbinical Board.

“It hit us so hard because it’s literally across the street from our school,” Segura said.

“For me,” Arrua said, “this hits home.”

They pack the meals into cardboard boxes, and two volunteers, Yoni Maimon and Jacob Ruben, carry them to a pair of golf carts that the nearby J.W. Marriott donated for this effort. Police officers that line Collins Avenue, between the center and hotel where families are staying, stop traffic to let the golf carts through, several times throughout the day.

Yoni Maimon, left, and Jacob Ruben, volunteers at the kosher kitchen at the Surfside Community Center, load 200 meals in golf carts for delivery to families of those missing in the Champlain Towers collapse, staying in a nearby hotel. Carlos Frías cfrias@miamiherald.com

Two hours later, they’ll do it all again — doubling the number of these warm kosher meals and delivering them to first responders at the site of the collapse, from Israeli army search-and-rescue teams to Miami-Dade rescue teams of all religions.

“We believe there is a blessing in respecting everyone,” Yedidim founder Eran Hazan said.

And they’ll keep doing it, he says, on a nonstop loop, as long as their food can provide a touch of comfort.

How to help: Donations to the kosher kitchen can be made at StrongForSurfside.com through Yedidim USA, yedidimUSA.org.

The collapse of the Champlain Towers South condominium is becoming an emotional challenge for members in the search and rescue team, while they try to find victims seven days after the collapse. BY JOSÉ A. IGLESIAS