(Editor’s note: This is an updated version of the story posted on July 8.)
Two young Pittsburghers, and a former Pittsburgher, were among the first responders Saturday, June 29, when lightning struck three children in a field at the Union for Reform Judaism Goldman Union Camp Institute (GUCI), in Zionsville, Ind., near Indianapolis.
Twenty-year-old Jordan Keitel, a former student of Community Day School here, and a member of Rodef Shalom Congregation, was about 50 yards from the scene of the accident, and immediately sprinted to the assistance of 9-year-old Lily Hoberman of St. Louis, who had stopped breathing.
The children were on the field playing Frisbee when lightning struck them. It was not raining, and no storm had been forecast.
Keitel, who is on staff at GUCI as the wilderness and canoeing specialist, had completed his recertification in CPR and AED (automated external defibrillation) just three weeks earlier.
“Jordan was one of the first responders who worked on Lily,” said her mother, Michelle Hoberman. “He saved Lily’s life. He’s a blessing to us. He saved our little girl. He’s a godsend.”
Keitel, who began attending GUCI in 2004, and who has been on its staff since 2011, revived Lily with chest compressions and breaths, prior to the arrival of paramedics.
Lily’s mother said she was grateful that Keitel had the presence of mind to perform the emergency aid he had been trained to do.
“He’s very young,” said Hoberman. “To have the wherewithal to put into practice what he knows is amazing. It was amazing. It’s one thing for adults to do what they are trained to do — a nurse or a doctor — but for a kid to do it was unbelievable. A child saved another child. It had to have taken a lot of strength for him to do it for sure. He’s our hero. Things would not have been the same without him.”
Also on the scene as first responders were 18-year-old Tony Satryan of Pittsburgh, and 18-year-old Sam Rheins, whose parents, Rabbis Susan and Rick Rheins, were the spiritual leaders of Temple David of Monroeville from 1995 to 2005. The Rheins now live in Denver.
GUCI declined to release details regarding the specific aid provided by the first responders to the campers who were injured by the lightning.
In addition to Lily Hoberman, the other injured campers were Ethan Kadish, 12, of Cincinnati; and Noah Auerbach, 9, of Louisville, Ky. All three children were rushed to an Indianapolis hospital. Noah was released the following day and returned to camp. Lily was released after two days and is now home in St. Louis.
Ethan Kadish has been moved to a hospital in Cincinnati. He requires help with his breathing and needs his chest cleared, according to his family, who set up a website to provide updates on his condition.
Cheryl Moore of Pittsburgh, who serves on the board of directors of GUCI, was at camp when the lightning struck.
“It was probably the most horrific experience of my life,” said Moore, whose son, Tony Satryan, was one of the first responders. “It was like this violent act. In that moment, everything changed, especially for those children, and for the first responders, and for the camp.”
Moore, who was walking through the camp with Rabbi Sharyn Henry of Rodef Shalom, said she heard a “huge explosion.”
“Then somebody [in the neighborhood] yelled, ‘Something bad has happened at your camp!’ It was horrendous.”
Moore said she was particularly impressed with the way the camp’s staff handled the event.
“I’m so humbled by all the staff,” she said. “I don’t think I could have had the sense of duty, love and responsibility to instantaneously do what they did. I’m not sure I could have responded the same way.”
About 20 Pittsburghers, including both campers and staff, were at GUCI when the accident occurred, according to Moore.
Henry, whose two children were also at the camp at the time of the accident, called the efforts of the staff “remarkable and extraordinary.”
“Everyone did exactly what they were supposed to do,” Henry said. “Everyone remained calm, and pulled together under pressure. I felt like everyone was taken care of. There wasn’t a minute where I didn’t trust the staff and the leadership to take care of my own kids.”
Immediatley following the accident, the whole camp joined in a misheberach prayer for the three injured campers, Henry said.
“It was the most beautiful misheberach I’ve ever heard,” she said.
This was the first summer that Lily Hoberman had spent at overnight camp, and, despite being struck by lightning, she is eager to return next year, according to her mother.
“She’s very funny about it,” Michelle Hoberman said. “She said, ‘I definitely want to go back next summer, but if it happens again, I don’t want to go back a third time.’ ”
“This was her first time away at camp,” Hoberman continued. “They made it such a wonderful experience, she wants to go back and we’re comfortable enough to send her back.”
The families of the three children hit by lightning have established the Miracle Kids Medical and Rescue Fund to help continue emergency training for the GUCI staff, and to provide medical supplies and equipment to the camp. The fund was launched in honor of the “kids that survived the strike, as well as the kids who saved their lives,” according to Hoberman. Donations can be made to the fund at GUCI.urjcamps.org/give.
In another recent freak accident at a Jewish summer camp, a counselor, 21-year-old Annais Rittenberg from New York, was killed, and several others injured July 3, when a 70-foot tall tree fell outside a dining hall at Camp Tawonga, near Yosemite National Park in northern California.
(Toby Tabachnick can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.)