Tragedy of Costa Rica plane crash touches area Jewish community

From left: William, Bruce, Irene, Zachary and Matthew Steinberg (Facebook)

The deadly plane crash in Guanacaste, Costa Rica, that claimed two families on Dec. 31 was keenly felt even 3,700 miles away in Maryland.

The Steinbergs, a family of five from Scarsdale, N.Y., and the four-member Weiss family of Belleair, Fla., who all perished in the hillside crash, had connections to Baltimore, where Zachary Steinberg was a Johns Hopkins University student and Hannah Weiss was acquainted with Rabbi Rachel Blatt of Beth Israel Congregation.

Zachary J. Steinberg, 19, who started at Johns Hopkins in 2016, was a sophomore and involved with the Hopkins Hillel. Described as “extremely friendly and outgoing” in a Jewish Students Association Facebook post, Zachary was set to leave for his Birthright trip this week. His parents, Irene and Bruce, were also active on campus with Hillel’s governing board and the Hopkins Parents Council.

“Everyone in Hillel and on campus knew Zach as sweet, sincere and enthusiastic. He brightened the lives of those around him with his great sense of humor and friendly disposition,” said the Hopkins Jewish Students Association. “The pain of his loss will always be felt, and his memory will continue to inspire us. We will always think of him as a friend who constantly brought light to our lives.”

 Zachary’s brother, Matthew B. Steinberg, 13, was a talented musician and singer who attended Indian Head Camp in Equinunk, Pa., last summer, where Pikesville native Ira Gamerman, 35, was teaching music. Gamerman said he was stunned by the news.

“My job was to record an album with these campers. He’s a left-handed guitarist and had a really beautiful voice,” Gamerman said. “Matt wrote this really incredible song that we were working on, but it never wound up getting finished, which is really eerie now.”

Gamerman said the song was about “moving on,” and included the words, “I can’t forget you, but I can try to move on.”

“It stuck with me,” Gamerman said. “He was a very talented kid. He could have been the next Jimi Hendrix or Kurt Cobain. He wasn’t a virtuoso, but you start that early, you can really awaken something. He had real natural ability. It’s a real loss.”

The boys’ mother, Irene Steinberg, is a Potomac native, according to her Facebook profile.

Hannah Weiss (Facebook)

Hannah M. Weiss, 19, once stayed at the home of Blatt, director of Lifelong Learning at Beth Israel Congregation, when Hannah attended a United Synagogue Youth preconvention in 2015. Blatt, who is originally from Clearwater, Fla., said she and her family knew of the Weisses and their active Jewish community life around Belleair and St. Petersburg. She remembered Hannah as “very passionate” about her Judaism.

“At that time she was about to run for international board for USY, and she was just so optimistically passionate about the good that they could do in the world and how she wanted to change the world and inspire others to also do acts of tikkun olam,” Blatt recalled. “And I just thought that was so beautiful the way she was so excited about that. I could tell she was obviously very bright. The way she talked about her family, there was a lot of love there, and they were passionate about their Judaism. She lived far away from the synagogue, but they make it a big priority in their life to be involved. Everyone knew them and knew they were active in the community and passionate about the Jewish community.”

A young woman from Salt Lake City and two Costa Rican crew members also died in the crash.

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