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2015-01-16 digital edition

TODAY in the Jewish World:

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The Jewish Press of Tampa and the Jewish Press of Pinellas County are Independently- owned biweekly Jewish community newspapers published in cooperation with and supported by the Tampa JCC & Federation and the Jewish Federation of Pinellas & Pasco Counties, respectively. Copyright © 2009-2018 The Jewish Press Group of Tampa Bay, Inc., All Rights Reserved.


January 16, 2015  RSS feed

Text: T T T

Mark’s Mensches

Mike Igel
Mark Segel
Executive Director
The Jewish Federation of Pinellas & Pasco Counties

This High Holiday season my family and I had the pleasure of attending services at four different Pinellas County synagogues. It was truly a delight to see how we worship differently and beautifully across our community. We are so fortunate to have the caliber of rabbis and cantors that we do, as well as such committed and passionate lay leaders. It continues to make me proud to have the opportunity to partner with these fine shuls on our many common goals and objectives.

I’d like to express my gratitude to the presidents, rabbis, and executive directors of all the synagogues who not only allowed me to attend their services as a guest but also made me feel so welcome. It was very nice to see Jewish Federation supporters at every congregation and I so appreciated folks making the effort to come say hello to me and my family. Having my wife, daughter, and mother with me made me feel all the more proud. What a community!

I also enjoyed hearing the various appeals made at each service. Although there were some common themes, each speaker shared the unique needs of their respective synagogues and expressed in their own ways why support from their fellow congregants was so important.

In every case, I witnessed a passionate lay leader speak from the heart about the important role the synagogue plays in his/her life and how they couldn’t imagine living without it. Hearing these stories drove home for me how essential it is that the Federation does everything it can to ensure the long-term success of all our places of worship. I assure you, your Federation is as committed as ever to doing so.

One appeal I had the pleasure of listening to was delivered on Kol Nidre by 34-year-old Mike Igel at Congregation Beth Shalom in Clearwater. He shared how Beth Shalom shaped his Jewish life and why the synagogue is so important to him. As I listened, I knew then and there that he would be included as one of Mark’s Mensches. I’m pleased to have the opportunity to share his story.

Like many, Mike Igel’s religion has always been important to him. He grew up in a Conservative Jewish household, went to the Pinellas County Jewish Day School and continued to attend synagogue while in college. But it’s his family history that truly brings it home for him.

“My grandparents were Holocaust survivors. I think about what they went through and I feel an obligation. I try to make change, to be out there, and to be a part of growth and change and improvement”

While his grandparents’ experiences could have left Mike and his family with a negative outlook, they instead chose to make the best out of it. Mike expressed, “My grandfather said that everyone talks about how bad things were in the Holocaust, which is true, but he also wanted to emphasize the good, like the non-Jews who died so that some Jews could survive who otherwise would not. You have to remember that there are people out there doing the right thing.”

Mike works hard to carry on his grandparents’ legacy. He serves on the board of the Florida Holocaust Museum and is teaching children about the Holocaust.

“There is nothing like hearing from someone who went through it,” noted Mike. He has struggled with how to tell their story from a personal perspective without sounding like a history text. He would ask himself, “How do we communicate it?” So in addition to telling his grandparent’s story, he’s talking about how it impacted him and how it made him grow up. Mike didn’t want to just tell their story.

Mike’s parents have also always been involved in giving back to the Jewish community and, in fact, still are today. “My mom is on the board of the synagogue with me. My parents are very involved in the community. They were involved in school. We are a very tight-knit family and they taught us to be part of the community.”

In addition to sitting on the board of Congregation Beth Shalom, Mike also works with AIPAC and the Florida Chapter of the Chron’s and Colitis Foundation. He’s also involved in various political and civic organizations in the area. “I want to keep things moving and growing where I live.”

Mike has gotten a lot out of his work with the community and sees opportunity for others to get involved, especially young people.

“Judaism has always made sense to me and I try to be part of this community. It’s also smaller and people have to work to find it, but once they do they want the same things. It’s a unique community and passionate. I’ve made great friendships and find it’s natural to make the connection,” he said.

His advice for getting others involved is simple. “Old fashioned persistence, grass roots outreach, meeting someone you think would be a good fit.”

I couldn’t have said it better myself. The opportunities are out there and, if Jewish community is important to you, you can’t wait on the sidelines for someone to ask for your help. Decide what you’re passionate about and make it happen. We’re all depending on you!

Know a mensch? Contact or call the Federation office, (727) 530-3223.

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