An IDF Home Front Command mission member searching for survivors in Surfside, Florida, June 2021. (IDF Spokesperson's Unit) (IDF Spokesperson's Unit)

Florida town’s first Orthodox Jewish mayor said he wanted to thank Israel for its assistance in the search and rescue mission last year.

By Mike Wagenheim, JNS

The heavily Jewish town of Surfside, Florida, passed a resolution last week establishing a twin city relationship with the Samaria Regional Council.

Passed by a 5-0 margin, the partnership encompasses some three dozen Jewish communities and will honor Samaria Regional Council Chairman Yossi Dagan with a ceremonial key to the town.

Surfside’s first Orthodox Jewish mayor, Shlomo Danzinger, told JNS the move was motivated in part by a desire to thank Israel for its help in the search and rescue operation at the site of the collapse last year.

On June 24, 2021, Champlain Towers South, a 12-story beachfront condominium in the Miami suburbpartially collapsed, causing the death of 98 people.

“There were various organizations and groups that came in to provide help. What Israel brought was the technology and the method that hadn’t been used before. That dramatically decreased the time it took to ultimately recover the bodies,” he said, citing the Israel Defense Forces’ revolutionary 3D mapping system, which helped to rapidly identify the locations of the victims.

“Four or five months later, FEMA [the Federal Emergency Management Agency] was already sending their people into Israel to learn this new technology and method. It’s changed the way search and rescue is going to be done in America altogether. I thought it was important to make a statement and reach out and connect with the people of Israel,” said Danzinger.

He received pushback in part because of the stigma attached to Jewish communities in Judea and Samaria, disputed regions outside of Israel’s internationally-recognized borders. Some of the town’s commissioners initially opposed the resolution, but Danzinger said he rallied politicians at the local, state and federal levels to back his stance that much of the controversy around the pact was manufactured or exaggerated.

“I came in with the support of our U.S. senators, our state senators, our governor, nearby mayors and showed that the U.S. recognizes this region of Israel as an inherent right of the Jewish people to be there. And contrary to what the UN or any other anti-Semitic organization thinks, this is not a controversial statement,” said Danzinger, who brought in the Israeli consul-general to Miami, Maor Elbaz-Starinsky, to speak with the commission.

Danziger also told those concerned that there are “cities within Florida that have sister cities with Russia, with China and in Middle Eastern countries that are obviously much more controversial than the State of Israel, which has always been an ally to the U.S. This is not a political statement. It’s not a tying of the governments. It’s a tying of the people.”

The relationship will include cultural exchanges, connections and educational initiatives that Danzinger is working out with Dagan. The two men will meet in Israel soon to sign the agreement, the mayor said.

In additon, Danzinger said he is in talks with a popular South Florida liquor store chain to carry wines from Samaria, with the Surfside location regularly featuring a wine from the region.

The process of developing a twin city relationship could have been made easier, Danzinger said, had he selected Tel Aviv or another glitzy beach town as a partner. But he felt that Samaria, a region under regular terror attacks, understood the grief of a town like Surfside, and noted that Col. Golan Vach, commander of the IDF Rescue Unit that arrived in Florida to assist in the search after the Surfside condo collapse, has deep roots in the Samaria town of Eli.

The Binyamin Regional Council recently signed a friendship declaration with Nassau County, located on the western part of Long Island, New York, six years after the county’s largest town, Hempstead, did the same.

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