Updated: July 16, 2021 at 12:47 p.m.
Deborah Berezdivin, a rising junior who transferred to GW last year and was known for her uplifting personality, died in the June 24 condominium collapse in Surfside, Florida. She was 21.
Berezdivin, who was originally from Puerto Rico, transferred from Tulane University after her freshman year and was majoring in business administration and marketing. Friends of Berezdivin said she was devoted to her loved ones and had a passion for her Jewish community and culture.
Berezdivin and her boyfriend, University of Chicago student Ilan Naibryf, were staying in Berezdivin’s family condo to attend a funeral when the building collapsed on June 24. Berezdivin and Naibryf were missing for more than two weeks as the death toll continued to rise, standing at 97 as of Thursday.
Berezdivin and Naibryf’s bodies were recovered last week.
Rising junior Ezra Meyer said before attending college, he and Berezdivin spent a “transformative” gap year together in Israel, where they both made several close friends.
“I think she took the passion and love from that year with her,” he said.
Meyer said he met Berezdivin at a New York summer camp called Camp Tel Yehudah in 2015, later attending the pre-college Israel trip together and eventually reconnecting when Berezdivin transferred to GW.
Meyer said he would see Berezdivin every Friday in the spring semester at GW Chabad’s Shabbat dinner, which she spent baking challah before the meal. He said those times together allowed the two to reconnect after spending time apart in college.
“If I had to underscore one thing, it was her devotion to her friends and her community,” Meyer said.
Meyer described Berezdivin as an “amazing, loving” person who conducted herself with the “utmost” care for others. He added that she always strove to do good in life and deeply valued her friendships.
“To receive messages of support and love from the people of every circle of the GW community, it really shows,” Meyer said. “It’s representative of Deb’s character as well as the character of the GW community.”
Rivky Steiner, the co-director of the Rohr Chabad Jewish Student Center at GW, said Berezdivin was a “committed, happy, positive person.” She said Berezdivin’s friends from Puerto Rico were planning to attend GW in the fall, and she was excited to share her community in D.C. with them.
“I would say she was very outgoing, positive, a very good friend, loyal and traditional in her Latin tradition, her Jewish tradition,” Steiner said.
Steiner said she first formed a relationship with Berezdivin after receiving a call from a colleague involved with Chabad at Tulane who mentioned a girl who “came to the center all the time” for Shabbat dinners. Steiner said she and Berezdivin then began to communicate on WhatsApp “all the time” before Berezdivin arrived on campus.
Steiner said the two met when Berezdivin reached out to Steiner and her husband for help hanging a Mezuzah, a fixture with a Jewish prayer that is often placed on doors. She said because of COVID-19 social distancing protocol, Berezdivin could not bring the Steiners into her building to say the prayer that accompanies the hanging of a Mezuzah, so she sent a video for Steiner’s husband to guide her through the process.
Berezdivin joined Chabad GW that Friday for a Shabbat dinner, which took place in a tent during the pandemic, Steiner said. She said a week later, Berezdivin reached out and told her that she missed baking Challah, sparking a semester-long tradition of baking the bread every Friday.
“She said she baked it with her mother and grandmother,” Steiner said. “She said, ‘If you don’t feel comfortable, I understand, but I need that connection.’”
Steiner added that Berezdivin wore several rings, which she would remove while baking for Steiner’s children to play with. Steiner said her daughters loved when Berezdivin baked Challah with the family.
“Even though it was only a couple of months, it felt like I’d known her forever,” Steiner said.
Solana Roitman, a rising junior majoring in criminal justice, said she met Berezdivin at Camp Judaea, a Jewish sleepaway summer camp. She said Berezdivin was always engaged and pleasant, bringing joy to those around her.
“She walked with such confidence and with a smile on her face that it was contagious,” Roitman said.
Roitman said she only got to see Berezdivin once after she transferred to GW at a Chabad Shabbat dinner, but Berezdivin was immediately friendly.
“She greeted me with a smile, and we talked for a bit catching up on how we both were and how school was going,” Roitman said. “I will always remember Deborah by her smile and beautiful presence.”
Rising senior Lizzie Irwin said she met Berezdivin at Camp Tel Yehudah, the New York summer camp, a few years before going to GW, and Berezdivin always brought people together.
“You could tell that she really glued people together,” Irwin said. “I’ve always heard people speak so positively of her.”
As Berezdivin’s loss is felt across campus, University resources are available for additional support to students. The Colonial Health Center provides counseling and psychological services to the GW community as well as outside referrals, and academic and religious advisers are available to speak with students.
This post has been updated to reflect the following correction:
The Hatchet incorrectly reported that the Champlain Towers South condominium building collapsed on June 23. The collapse occurred on June 24. We regret this error.