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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.


 

July 17, 2015  RSS feed
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Local rabbi enters uncharted waters with scuba Birthright trip to Israel


Divers unfurl a Taglit Birthright banner and Israeli flags to celebrate their scuba experience in Israel. 
Photo by Yehuda Ben-Yatah/Israel Hayom Divers unfurl a Taglit Birthright banner and Israeli flags to celebrate their scuba experience in Israel. Photo by Yehuda Ben-Yatah/Israel Hayom For many who take the free 10-day Birthright trip to Israel, they may float in the Dead Sea or hit the beach in Tel Aviv, but for 30 young adults on a recent trip with Rabbi Ed Rosenthal, executive director of Hillels of the Florida Suncoast, it was all about underwater adventure as they went on the firstever scuba Birthright trip.

All those traveling with the rabbi were certified scuba divers and the program was a dream come true for Rabbi Rosenthal.

Working with Hillel colleagues in Jerusalem, a proposal for the scuba Birthright program was presented to the Birthright Foundation and approved, clearing the way for Rabbi Rosenthal to lead the first group June 1-12 on the history-making Birthright experience.

The program was funded by the Charles Bronfman Foundation, one of the original Taglit-Birthright program founders. So impressed with Rabbi Rosenthal’s idea, Charles Bronfman met the group in Jerusalem to personally share how pleased he was to be able to make this happen.


Rabbi Ed Rosenthal of Hillels of the Suncoast, far right, with (L-R) Sam Driks, Eric Jagodinski and David Nowak-Laird, three of the 30 divers he led on a Birthright Israel trip. Rabbi Ed Rosenthal of Hillels of the Suncoast, far right, with (L-R) Sam Driks, Eric Jagodinski and David Nowak-Laird, three of the 30 divers he led on a Birthright Israel trip. Rabbi Rosenthal, a certified scuba diver for more than 30 years, was very excited about the opportunity to give young Jews the ability to connect with Israel and their Judaism through the water. He received 61 applications from college students and young adults around the country.

Of the 30 young adults on the trip, 10 were students at Eckerd College and part of Scubi Jew, also known as EC Environmental Divers, an Eckerd College student club created by Hillel that is now one of the largest and most popular student clubs on campus. Ten Israeli soldiers and students also took part in the trip.

The itinerary for the underwater Birthright trip included the traditional, not-to-be-missed highlights of a regular Birthright experience, including visits to Jerusalem, Tzfat and Masada, but this group spent as much of their time in Israel underwater as they did on land.

The group went on a total of 12 dives throughout the country. They dove in the underwater archaeological site at Caesarea and in the Gulf of Eilat. They also snorkeled in the grottos of Rosh HaNikrah on the Lebanese border, but because of security restrictions, were not allowed to scuba close to Lebanon. While in Israel, the group drew attention from the Israeli media, including a feature article in Israel Hayom, one of Israel’s daily newspapers, a segment on Mabat Channel 1 News and a live interview with some of the trip’s participants appearing on Israel’s version of ESPN.

One of the scuba divers on the trip was Samuel Marcadis, son of Betsy and Abe Marcadis, who grew up in Tampa and has been scuba diving since he was a teenager. Although Sam had previously visited Israel with his family several times, he never had the opportunity to see the country, and his Judaism, through the water.

“The trip was incredible. I was able to see the true beauty of Israel from a very different perspective than the traditional Birthright experience allows. It was a once-ina lifetime experience that I will not soon forget, and I am so appreciative of Rabbi Ed and the Birthright organization for allowing me to participate,” Marcadis said.


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