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Fifty people, including two Israelis and a cantor were killed when the Newark to Buffalo flight crashed into the suburb on Thursday evening, plowing into a residential home only five minutes away from the plane’s final destination.
The congregation at Temple Beth Am has felt a particular sadness with the passing of Cantor Susan Wehle, 55, the daughter of Holocaust survivors who was remembered over the weekend as “kind, understanding, patient, warm, faithful”, a woman who was known to sit by the beds of the sick and dying to sing and pray.
Rabbi Harry Rosenfeld – who was standing in for the shul’s usual minister during the Friday night service at which more than 600 local residents joined to pray and comfort one another – said of the tragedy: “When we heard the news, our minds, as is only natural, began to wonder if we knew anyone on the plane. And because we’re Jews, we wondered if there were any Jews on the plane. But to lose someone who gave so much leaves us shocked, numbed and rattled.”
Wehle was on her way home after a holiday in Costa Rica, eager to reunite with her two sons Jacob and Jonah. According to friends, the boys were driving inspirations in the cantor’s life, leading her to devote much of her time to working with children’s programmes.
Beth Am’s Rabbi Irwin A. Tanenbaum released a statement following the news of the crash saying the community should “remember and be grateful for all that our friend and my colleague has given to us”.
He added: “The community’s Shabbat joy can’t possibly be as complete without her presence, but we will forever hear in our inner ears her glad songs of joyous praise and her celebration and humanity, driving together to bring peace to our world.”
The crash also resulted in the loss of Ruth Harel-Katz, 52, an Israeli woman who was living in the US, and George Abu Karam, 27, from Tiberias who worked as a security guard and had served in the Israel-backed South Lebanon Army. He was flying to Buffalo to visit a cousin.
Aviv Omer, a friend of Karam’s, told Israel Radio: “You could say that he didn’t just fit in, he led. He was always surrounded by friends, always smiling. He had presence. He was a big man.
“He worked as a security guard after the SLA. He always tried to look tough and project confidence, but inside he had a heart as soft as butter, a heart of gold.”
Oded Zafti, the owner of a bar that employed Abu Karam, told reporters: “He was a man with a good soul, enterprising and devoted.”Chazan Killed in USA Plane Crash by Erica Morris