CJN EXCLUSIVE

On Oct. 1, the Spiegel family found itself adorned with mouse ears, waving at princesses and spinning around in multicolored teacups. For a few moments, caught up in young Scarlett and Sloane’s melodious giggles, life felt almost normal for the family during their trip to Walt Disney World in Orlando, Fla.

But those distant feelings of normalcy immediately dissolved when the family remembered something immense was missing, that their hearts were engulfed in a sharp pain they’d never felt before.

The all-knowing matriarch who had planned the entire trip months in advance, the grandmother who loved Disney because her 4-year-old granddaughter was enamored with its magic, the center of the Spiegel family, wasn’t there.

Judy Spiegel, the 65-year-old wife of about 40 years, mother of three and grandmother of two had died in the collapse of the Champlain Towers South condo in Surfside, Fla., June 24. Her body was recovered from the rubble July 9.

Almost four months after Judy’s death, her husband, Kevin, and son, Dr. Josh Spiegel, voyaged to the Cleveland area to meet with loved ones. On Oct. 16, the father and son sat down with the Cleveland Jewish News to talk about everything that has happened since the dust settled.

“We’ve been trying to get as much back to normalcy as possible, which is very difficult,” said Josh Spiegel, a resident of Orlando. “It’s of course tough, because there’s no way to avoid confronting what had happened every single day. It’s now a part of us and a part of life.”

Kevin and Josh said they haven’t received any new information regarding the condo collapse – how it happened, who is at fault, etc. The not knowing aspect is “the hardest part,” Josh said.

The two added that they were unable to discuss any legal matters or about the collapse itself.

“No one would ever imagine anything like this is physically possible,” said Kevin Spiegel, who at the time of the collapse was working in Los Angeles as a hospital turnaround specialist. “When you lie in your bed at night and you close your eyes, you feel probably the safest you do in the whole day. You don’t envision that the building’s going to collapse or anything.”

The trip to Disney was a part of the family’s ongoing mourning journey, Josh said. Tracing Judy’s life, the Spiegels have ventured to places she used to live, like New York City and the Hamptons. Because of Kevin’s job as a hospital administrator, the couple and their three children – Rachel, Michael and Josh – moved all around the U.S.

For a few years, the Spiegels lived in the Warren, Ohio, suburb of Howland Township, when Kevin Spiegel served as CEO of Trumbull Memorial Hospital, which is now Trumbull Regional Medical Center. They eventually relocated to Florida, were they were members of The Shul of Bal Harbour.

The family also wants to visit people who were close to Judy, like Rabbi Yoel Gancz, who oversees the Chabad of West Palm Beach in Florida, and three of her good friends in London, including Holocaust survivor Eva Schloss and Minnie Churchill, who was married to Winston Churchill’s grandson.

During these trips, many of those who knew Judy join the Spiegels for a memorial service or celebration of Judy’s life. Similarly, for her funeral at Mount Sinai Cemetery in Miami July 13, dozens of rabbis, friends and former community members were in attendance.

“We were very fortunate that even though we moved around a lot when I was growing up, we connected with a lot of people,” Josh said. “We were able to keep in touch with everybody and really made and tried to make an impact as much as we could. I think that’s shown because so many people came out.”

The father-son duo said the support they’ve received from across the world and Ohio has been tremendous. Josh and Michael both graduated from Howland High School in Warren. Josh attended college at The Ohio State University in Columbus, and Michael went to Bowling Green State University.

“There’s a huge connection between Cleveland, and the food is great,” Kevin Spiegel said.

Josh said this is the greatest level of pain he and his family have ever experienced.

“It’s been a roller coaster,” Josh said. “We’ve never experienced anything like this before, and we’re just trying to go through it together as a family thinking, ‘What would my mom want?’”

Kevin and Josh described Judy as an always positive, hard working, health conscious and loving super grandma, teacher and role model. Every single thing reminds them of her, from a flower to a piece of food.

But even in passing, Judy continues to show her family that she’s watching over them. The family decided to go on the Disney trip Judy had already planned, originally in celebration of the park’s 50th anniversary. With a group size now larger than the one Judy had organized, Josh said his sister had found a character breakfast a few weeks prior to the trip’s start that the group wanted to attend. Upon calling Disney to see if they could squeeze in a table of 10, Rachel discovered someone had already beat her to it.

“The hostess said, ‘We already have a group of 10 for Judy Spiegel,’” Josh said. “We were like, ‘What?’ My mom had already done it, like, months beforehand.”

Kevin added, “She knew.”

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