Miami Beach, FL – Just hours before being presented with an award for his heroic attempts to rescue a group of visiting Chasidic businessmen who were swept up by a riptide off a North Miami beach, a Bal Harbour police officer agreed to publicly share his thoughts about that fateful day, which sparked a renewed interest in his Jewish faith and heritage.
As previously reported on VIN News(http://goo.gl/miUHrW), Brooklyn resident Yitzchak Rosenberg, president of the Satmar congregation, and Chaim Parnes of Kiryas Joel drowned on May 17th in the waters off Haulover Beach, located near Bal Harbour. Aron Wurzberger, also of Kiryas Joel, was hospitalized after being pulled out of the water. Two others in the group escaped serious injury.
Officer George Waisman of the Bal Harbour Police Department was honored with a plaque for his efforts by, Chief Mark Nathan Overton of the Bal Harbour Police, Mayor Martin Packer and the Bal Harbour Village Council on Tuesday night, acknowledging his bravery for jumping into dangerous waters, bringing one victim to safety and recovering the body of another.
Waisman had been previously recognized for extraordinary service in December 2010 when he was named Officer of the Month for his role in the arrest of two men on charges of felony drug possession.
“The department, along with the village, want to recognize his heroic efforts and lifesaving efforts in rescuing the distressed swimmers over in Haulover Beach,” said Lieutenant Raymond Flowers of the Bal Harbour Police Department. “He was off duty and decided to go in there anyway to assist pulling them out of the water.”
Florida Highway Patrol chaplain Mark Rosenberg, and director of Chesed Shel Emes, presented Waisman with a second plaque, signed by the Parnes and Rosenberg families and Aron Wurzberger and his family, citing his “altruistic valor and spirited bravery.”
“The families are still wondering what compelled Officer Waisman to jump on a jet ski amid powerful rip currents, risking his own life to save another and then returning back to the water to save even more lives,” said Rosenberg. “While we still grieve this terrible tragedy, it shows us that brave men and women do exist and Officer Waisman’s actions brought the sun amid the clouds.”
For Waisman, a ten year veteran of the Bal Harbour Police Department, Tuesday, May 17th began with a series of unexplained events that culminated in a life-changing intersection of tragedy and divine intervention.
Waisman’s alarm clock went off early that morning, getting him to his 10 AM appointment at the State Attorney’s office ahead of schedule. After wrapping up his business in record time, Waisman found himself driving to the Bal Harbour police station even though he was off duty.
“I went to work but when I got there I had no idea why I was there,” Waisman told VIN News. “I knew I had gone there for a reason, but I had no idea what it was.”
Leaving the police station, located on 96th Street, Waisman headed north towards his Aventura home. Passing the Haulover Beach area, he noticed rescue trucks and fire engines heading towards Bal Harbour and, for reasons he cannot explain, he drove up the grass and onto the beach even though the emergency vehicles were all going in the other direction.
“Something directed me to that particular area,” said Waisman, who noted that the initial call for help had directed rescuers to the wrong location.
Lifeguards were already giving CPR to one victim by the time Waisman arrived and, after advising his dispatcher of his situation and location, he joined the resuscitation efforts. Informed by one of the five Chasidic swimmers that there were three more still to be rescued, one lifeguard began pulling a nearby jet ski out of the sand while Waisman went into the water to rescue a victim who was struggling nearby.
“I pushed him to get him out of the danger area,” recalled Waisman. “I walked him to the sand and sat him down. He was okay. Then we got on the jet ski to go pull out the other victims.”
The two soon reached one of the remaining victims but Waisman was unable to pull the man onto the jet ski platform. He realized that his best course of action was to go into the water and push off the ocean floor to boost the victim up onto the jet ski, but the water was deeper than Waisman had anticipated.
“As I am going down to push myself from the bottom I realized that there was no bottom,” said Waisman.
The son of Jewish parents who hadn’t practiced religion in years, Waisman found inspiration at that moment from a completely unexpected source.
“The hand of G-d touched my heart and told me to relax, not to worry,” said Waisman. “Something lit up in my body that I can’t explain and I started praying for the first time since my bar mitzvah and I felt so powerful. Something beautiful that I can’t explain gave me the strength to put him up on the platform.”
Despite Waisman’s efforts and those of the other rescuers, it was too late for Rosenberg and Parnes who both succumbed to their injuries. Waisman said that he believes that the man he brought in on the jet ski was Rosenberg and confirmed that both victims that he rescued from the water were wearing bathing suits, despite rumors to the contrary.
Waisman, who initially asked for privacy in light of the tragic circumstances, received more than 12,000 emails within days of the tragedy thanking him for his efforts. Touched by the outpouring of support that he received, he has diligently been trying to work his way through his inbox.
“Every one that I am reading, I try to respond to,” said Waisman.
Waisman said that the events that took place last month have given him a new lease on life and he has since visited the synagogue located next door to his home.
“I am starting to follow some of my parents’ beliefs,” said Waisman. “I am kind of happy to go back to shul. I used to be very negative about different thing but I realized that I was looking at the glass as half empty. Now I wake up and thank G-d every day for my health and the health of my kids. It changed me spiritually so much, those 10 minutes.”