Surfside condo collapse

‘He Lit Up the Room': A Family in Limbo, Losing Hope While a Brilliant Young Man Is Missing

Ilan Naibryf stayed with his girlfriend, Deborah Berezdivin, at her family’s apartment at Champlain Towers last week

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They are supposed to be five.

The Naibryf family lives in Weston. Now Carlos and Ronit’s youngest child, Ilan, is missing in the rubble, and they have no idea how to cope with this horrible limbo.

“You’re in shock, there isn’t a body yet, so this period of waiting has let us — and I’m not sure if it’s the right word — digest what we’re going through,” said Ronit Felszer, Ilan’s mother.

She said she doesn’t believe in miracles. Now her family is in that horrible limbo between hope and being able to properly grieve. It’s been a week of agony, of mental and physical anguish for all the families of those still missing after the partial collapse of the Champlain Towers condo building in Surfside last week.

“We’re drained because it’s long, the process is long, we’re waiting and we don’t even know what we’re waiting for,” Felszer said. 

“This hurts a lot,” Carlos Naibryf said. “There is no way, or words, to describe how torn or fractured we are.”

Torn and fractured, the family clings to each other as they face the inevitable. 

“We’re supposed to bury our parents but never our children,” Felszer said.

Ilan Naibryf is 21 and an athletic, adventurous, brilliant physics major at the University of Chicago. He went to boarding school in Hawaii for high school and attended the school at Temple Sinai of North Dade from kindergarten through 8th grade. 

Ilan was going to a funeral in Miami last Thursday morning, so he stayed with his girlfriend, Deborah Berezdivin, at her family’s apartment at Champlain Towers Wednesday night. They had the place to themselves, and at 10:36 p.m., Deborah sent a selfie to Ilan’s mom. It shows the couple in the Champlain Towers elevator going up. They vanished a few hours later. 

Ilan Naibryf and Deborah Berezdivin at Champlain Towers.

“I cannot understand why it happened, actually nobody does. I don’t have my son. He disappeared in literally 12 seconds,” Carlos Naibryf said. 

“I know that this is not just my pain, but the pain of an entire community, whoever knew him is hurting terribly,” Felszer said. 

“I think it will be a dimmer world. Ilan brought light everywhere he went. He would walk into a room and he lit up that room,” said his sister, Tali Naibryf. 

Ilan was close with his two older sisters, and just weeks ago, he founded a startup company called Stix Financial. It’s a currency platform that allows users to utilize stocks as payments like cash. The sisters say they will continue moving forward with the startup, in tribute to their brother.

“Everyone I speak to says he’s strong, Ilan is strong, we’ll get through this. Unfortunately, he’s my little brother, so I don’t see him as someone who’s strong — I see him as a little brother,” Tali Naibryf said through sobs. 

In a terrible irony, Ilan was born on September 11, and now he’s missing in the nation’s worst building collapse since Sept. 11, 2001. His car, meanwhile, is sitting unscathed in the parking lot of Champlain Towers.

Miami-Dade County Mayor Daniella Levine Cava announced on Thursday evening that Search and Rescue teams had resumed searching for victims of the Surfside condo collapse, after a nearly 15-hour pause due to safety concerns for the first responders.
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