Even for a Long Island rabbi hundreds of miles away from the tragic scene at the collapsed Surfside condo complex, the search for survivors is a test of faith.
"I feel sick. Heartbroken, I'm a basket case," said Dix Hills Rabbi Yakov Saacks.
His prayers have been focused on two brothers who are Long Island natives, who he has known for more than 20 years. Brad and Gary Cohen are still unaccounted for, seven days after the collapse in the middle of the night.
"Where there's life, there's hope. And we don't know for sure there's no life," Saacks said.
Brad lived in Surfside, while Gary was visiting from his home in Alabama, where a friend said he was a doctor at a VA hospital in Tuscaloosa. The building collapsed shortly after the brothers, both in their 50s, had returned from visit with their parents.
Brad's wife, Siraya, spoke of remaining hopeful in the hours after the collapse, and believes her husband is still alive. But the death toll now sits at 16 after Wednesday, as four more bodies were pulled from the rubble. There are 147 people still unaccounted for.
Like his brother, Brad was also a doctor, as well as a father of two. That's where he met Saacks, who called him a "man of great faith, integrity and knowledge. He never stopped learning."
The rabbi will travel to Florida Thursday with a third Cohen brother, who still lives on Long Island, to reunite with the Cohens' mother and father. Saacks said he spoke with the mother sometime after the collapse.
"She told me she will not talk about them in the past tense," Saacks said of the mother. "She's not giving up hope. She is praying and if a miracle needs to happen, so be it."