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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.


February 12, 2016  RSS feed

Text: T T T

Ramblings on my mind: Fear, heroes and Hiddur Mitzvah

Emilie Socash

“Be careful about what you put out there: you don’t want to make yourself a victim.”

Have you heard that before? Did it make your skin crawl? What first comes to mind: that a woman was making herself a victim by the way she dresses? That an older adult made himself a victim by inviting a guest into his home?

What if I told you that a local security expert offered just this advice a week or so ago, cautioning the Federation staff and I to “be careful” in how much pro-Israel information we put “out there.”

He was visiting our office to do a security assessment. We learned that we’re doing great in terms of securing our facility; he had a few suggestions on some procedural improvements that we’ll take very seriously. But his theory that we were potentially making ourselves victims just riled me up.

So here are a few things I’ll reiterate in response to his visit:

1. We’re a Jewish organization that employs Jewish and non- Jewish staff and welcomes all to our office location in Largo and all of our community-wide programs. Stop by to say hello at 13191 Starkey Road.

2. We’re pro-Israel. We promote dialogue about international relations with Israel. We advocate for Israel’s existence, peace, and security. In fact, we like the idea of all nations achieving peace and security. Check out our Facebook presence to see some of our messages.

3. We’re proud to speak up for the Jewish community here at home, around the nation, and around the globe. We do this through the Jewish Press, our website, and our presence out there in the community. Check out our community calendar at

4. We take our safety seriously, and we do nothing in fear. We know that when we start to modify our behavior – to shrink back, to hold our tongue, to not be present – those who work against us are winning.

Living in the City of Hiddur Mitzvah

St. Petersburg, and with ripples out across the Pinellas County and Pasco County regions, has been continuously deemed a “city of the arts.” In the last few weeks I’m reminded that our Jewish community is also one drawn to the arts, and at a large level we fulfill the principle of Hiddur Mitzvah.

Quick refresher: Hiddur Mitzvah is the idea that it is even more meaningful to perform a mitzvah in a way that has been aesthetically enhanced. Think about your kiddush cup. The mezuzah your kids created at preschool. Shabbat candlesticks.

I had lunch with a couple new to town, Ezra and Skipper, who recently moved here from Columbus and were drawn by our strong arts presence. Of course we spoke of the Dali, my old haunt freeFall Theatre, the Morean, Chihuly, Duncan McClellan, and American Stage. We spoke about one of the greatest collections of Judaica, held by the Schottenstein family in Columbus, which I knew of from my time in Cleveland. But we turned naturally toward one of our community’s calendar landmarks: the Temple Beth-El art show.

Creation is a key element of Judaism, as is joining together as a community. Temple Beth-El creates one of the most dynamic experiences in the art show world, drawing attendees from the farthest flung reaches of our region.

When I stopped by the show on Monday, Feb. 1, it was the sense of Hiddur Mitzvah that bowled me over. Beth Rosenbluth (Temple Beth-El president) and Cecile Berko (board member) greeted me energetically; Doug Negretti (incoming temple president) was warm and proud. A docent-led tour made their way around me. The committee took snapshots near some of the taller pieces of art. Craig Sher served as cashier. And Sara Gottlieb glowed with the entire vibe.

We have another opportunity around the corner to feel the glow of joining together as a community, and making our practice of being together beautiful: the Tampa Bay Jewish Film Festival, which opens on March 2 and celebrates its 20th year. This year’s Starr Award will go to the very-deserving Mike White and Sue Heyman, who have worked passionately on the festival since its inception. This couple epitomizes what it means to make a difference by making our mitzvoth beautiful. Heroes

I was lucky enough to be in the front row at the WEDU BeMore Awards on Feb. 5 to see Lisl Schick and Beth Gelman make their way (separately) to the podium to receive their awards. Lisl was awarded as the Volunteer of the Year, and the Florida Holocaust Museum was deemed the “Be More Knowledgeable” organization, as it brings a greater sense of knowledge to our community.

Of course I’m a big fan of Lisl and the museum. But even more touching was the message that this shared with the 400+ individuals in the room, most of whom weren’t Jewish and had little connection to the Jewish community. What a positive message to send; I was wonderfully proud to be able to be a part of that special moment.

An additional hero amongst us will be honored at the national level: Sonya Miller will be receiving the Kipnis Wilson- Friedland Award at the Jewish Federations of North America International Lion of Judah conference in September. Sonya was nominated by Women’s Philanthropy leadership of the Federation for her long-time commitment to the work of the Federation and her philanthropic leadership.

Finally, we often promote Super Sunday with a superhero theme, and it’s by no accident. On Super Sunday, our calling volunteers and our donors are all heroes. Please take or make the call on Sunday, Feb. 21.

Liked it? Loathed it? Want to react? I would welcome your feedback and can be reached at

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