Estelle Hedaya was a friend, daughter, sister, and director of operations for Continental Buying Group and Preferred Jewelers International in Surfside, Florida.
There have been a lot of articles, posts, and musings on the tragedy that befell Champlain Towers in Surfside. As of now, the official death toll is speedily moving past 60 and the rest of the nearly 100 other missing residents and guests are presumed gone. It's a shocking mental and emotional tally, South Florida is a small community in a lot of ways— and somehow we all know each other or indirectly know each other. That's the case with Estelle Hedaya, a friend of mine who was in the tower that collapsed, Champlain Towers South. Rather than reiterating all the facts every news station is going to spit out for the next several days, I'd like to use this entry as a collection point for the warm and loving thoughts of Estelle's friends.
Estelle was someone so many of us knew from her days in New York. She grew up in the city immersed in the Sephardi Syrian circles of Brooklyn, worked, and built lasting friendships before moving to Miami just a few years ago. In fact, the light-up-the-room friend who was often called Cha-Cha for her dancing skills hadn't even moved to Champlain Towers South until recently— she was in another building nearby for what seemed like ages. It's a fact her friends can't stop thinking about. What if she hadn't moved? What if she stayed put?
"It's something that's so hard to think about," shares one Miami-local friend who asked that her name not be used. "I'm sharing these thoughts with you. I want everyone to know that I think the world of Estelle, that I love her, that I'm ready to hit the gym with her and be normal again... because I refuse to believe that hope is gone for her."
"She'd always get dressed up to go out with friends," recalls Nora Mongardi, another friend of many years. "And her commitment to her workouts and the results she shared were so inspirational! She also never hesitated to travel alone, which I can relate to, and she'd meet so many people and share her adventures on social media and her blog. I'm tearing up as I write this."
Hedaya's blog, Follow the Toes, chronicles some of her adventures in life, dating, friendship, and travel— giving even those who never knew her a little glimpse through a window into Estelle's charming, fun-filled life.
Ray Thomas, another dear friend of Estelle's, writes "She was always happy and smiling even when the weather was bad! She had her own way about her that just seemed to radiate onto others. I'll always remember her smiling face."
"I wish I could rewind and have just one more Saturday night out," shares Rob Navas, a nightlife bouncer and longtime friend of Hedaya's.
Her droves of friends in New York were choked up, to say the least, as they recounted some of their best memories of Estelle. "She was a part of the quintessential Fire Island gang," says Robert Mahler. "She loved the beach and the nightlife. She was always friendly and fun, added good spirits, and a great smile wherever she was in the mix."
Officially, the Surfside condo collapse has been switched over from a rescue mission to one of recovery, meaning responders are no longer expecting to find survivors. It's something Estelle's New York and Florida friends are doing their best to come to terms with.
"I keep saying my prayers and I'm not letting hope run out," shares one of her former Flatbush friends on Facebook. "Estelle wouldn't want us to quit keeping the hope alive."
Faith leaders, including rabbis, have been actively part of the search and are working with police and other first responders to handle the remains of Jewish victims according to Miami-Dade County mayor Daniella Levine Cava. If you have any information relating to the rescue or recovery of the Surfside, Florida condo collapse victims, please call Miami-Dade police.
Have a heartwarming story or thought about Estelle you'd like to share? I'll happily update this piece from time to time as of collection of well-wishes and memories for the friend so many loved.