It all began on Tuesday evening, August 31, at 11.00 p.m.

I had just finished giving a late night class when my wife told me that a plane headed to Cordoba crashed while taking off from Buenos Aires' airport (Aeroparque Metropolitano Jorge Newbery). There is a possibility that Jews were on the flight.

I didn't think twice. I grabbed my cell phone and Tehillim (Psalms) and was on my way to the airport.

Arriving at the airport at about 11.30 I went straight through the crowds of TV cameras and reporters — brushing off their persistent questioning — and headed for the passenger lounge. Security ushered me in, not allowing the press to follow. Inside I found a tense, tearful crowd of family members waiting for news of what happened to LAPA Airline Boeing 737 flight.

Everyone knew that the plane had crashed at takeoff. What was not certain was who survived and who didn't, who missed the flight and who "made" it.

I looked around for familiar faces. When I finally someone I knew he confirmed my fears. Eduardo Yurevich, the accountant, and Alberto Trosman were thought to have been on the flight. So far neither man had contacted his loved ones and both families feared the worst.

I went to sit down near where Mrs. Yurevich was sitting with her friends and relatives. Nobody was speaking. I took out my Tehillim and started reading. My mind wandered back to the times I spent with Eduardo learning Tanya [Chabad philosophy] at a weekly class; sitting in his office talking about some Gematria (he had a passion for Kabalah); and how he wanted the best Tallit and Tefillin for his son's Bar Mitzvah.

He was also always present, participating in all our projects since the start of the Cordoba Chabad House in December of '89. Whether it was building the shul, the mikvah or the library, or dedicating a new Torah — 54 families, including Eduardo's, each bought a Torah portion, and we had a major celebration when the scroll was complete — he never said no.

He once came to me with a peculiar request: Would I please lend him my black hat and Kapote [traditional black silk Shabbat robe] for one day? I said, "No problem but... what exactly do you plan to do with it?" He explained that there was some family get-together and he wanted to make a statement that he was a Jew and proud of it. (He came from a staunch socialist background.) The best way, he figured, to get the message across was by coming dressed up as a rabbi!

A long three hours passed before an airline official came out holding a list. There was a mad rush to the front as he began to speak. It was the most terrifying scene I have ever witnessed. First he read the list of survivors who were hospitalized, among them a member of Bnei Brith Cordoba who miraculously was ejected from the plane and thrown away from the fiery explosion.

Then he continued reading the list of passengers who boarded and were now presumed dead. It was ghastly. He was calmly reading the names while all around him people were fainting and screaming and medics scurried every which way, hauling their gurneys. Out of 95 passengers, only 25 survived. The rest were missing. Most of the passengers were from Cordoba, returning home on the 475 mile, 75 minute flight from Buenos Aires.

After spending quite some time keeping people, Jews and non-Jews, company, just being there with them, I called Rabbi Grunblatt, the chief Lubavitch emissary to Argentina, in Buenos Aires. I filled him in and gave him the names of people to visit in the local hospitals. Then I headed for the home of the Yurevich family.

A crowd had already gathered there. News travels fast. Most people had tears in their eyes. I noticed Eduardo's mother sitting in the kitchen and went in to see her. An elderly regal woman, she loved to talk in Yiddish whenever we would meet. But now there were no words to say, she was sitting in shock. She just repeated again and again: "I can't believe it." It was heartbreaking.

It took two days until the bodies could be identified and sent to Cordoba for burial. On Thursday night, shortly past midnight, one plane arrived with many coffins. The first one taken off the plane was that of Eduardo Yurevich of blessed memory. It would be taken straight away to the waiting vehicle and to the funeral home. The rest of the bodies on that plane were to be received in an official ceremony with the governor and a royal honor guard on the runway with other clergy officiating. I took my place next to the ambulance and, as soon as the plane landed, checked the nametag and helped place the coffin in the vehicle, and off we were to the funeral home where hundreds of people were waiting.

At 2.30 AM I was back at the airport to receive the coffin of Alberto Trosman and went through the same procedure as before. Though I didn't know him nearly as well as I knew Eduardo, he was a friend. A humble man, he was dedicated to his work and family. He was always a pleasure to chat with. We became acquainted at a family celebration and from then on, kept up our friendship. Now I was at the airport with the same relatives with whom we had shared happy moments in the past, quietly loading his coffin into the waiting van while murmuring a chapter of Tehilim...

Friday, 11:00 AM. The first funeral, with hundreds of people in attendance. Nineteen-year old Gabriel was choking back his tears while saying Kaddish for his father. His mother, sister, grandmother and other relatives and friends looked on in stunned silence. (Just a few years ago — with his father's insistence and in time for his Bar-Mitzvah — I had taught Gabi the Hebrew Alphabet and basic reading. Who could have imagined...) I spoke of Eduardo Yurevich's thirst for knowledge of Torah and Kabalah and pleasure in doing good deeds and suggested that every person learn some Torah and do a Mitzvah in his honor.

4:30 P.M. The funeral of Alberto Trosman of blessed memory. Again huge crowds and again the pain and tears of seeing these three young girls suddenly orphaned. Again I spoke, asking everyone present to make sure that the Shabbat candles are lit today in every home to prove that only the body of Alberto is buried but the light of his soul, just as that of Yidishkeit, is eternal.

6.40 P.M. Candle lighting time. I am physically and emotionally exhausted but... do I have a choice? A quick visit to the Mikvah, a change to kapote and hat. I put on a smile and run into the shul — just in time to lead the spirited singing of Lecha Dodi [the Friday evening prayers]...