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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.


 

April 20, 2018  RSS feed
Front Page

Text: T T T

Scubi Jew appeal blooms – even in the Arizona desert

By BOB FRYER Jewish Press


Shayna Cohen, the new program coordinator for the Tikkun Hayam/Scubi Jew program. Shayna Cohen, the new program coordinator for the Tikkun Hayam/Scubi Jew program. When Rabbi Ed Rosenthal, founder of the Scubi Jew scuba diving program at Eckerd College, got a call from the Hillel program director at the University of Arizona, asking about starting a Scubi Jew chapter there, Rosenthal’s reaction was, “Dude, you live in the desert.”

The program director, who had read about the scuba diving program in a magazine highlighting college Hillel organizations across the nation, was not put off by Rabbi Rosenthal’s reaction and said there was strong interest in starting a chapter there. He also pointed out that the University of Arizona is closer to the Sea of Cortez than Eckerd College is to the Florida Keys. Soon, a chapter was formed and the Arizona students wound up on spring break diving trip to Key Largo to help clean up waters after Hurricane Irma ravaged the area.


University of Central Florida is one of six Florida colleges that has a Scubi Jew club, started at Eckerd College by Rabbi Ed Rosenthal of Hillels of the Florida Suncoast. University of Central Florida is one of six Florida colleges that has a Scubi Jew club, started at Eckerd College by Rabbi Ed Rosenthal of Hillels of the Florida Suncoast. While Rosenthal chuckled over the exchange with the Arizona program director, he is actually very proud and, he added, “a little amazed” by how the Scubi Jew program has grown and its prospects for future growth.

In 2000, when he was based at Emory University in Atlanta, he took a small group of Jewish students from Emory on a trip to Crystal River to learn about endangered manatees and then they took another trip to the Bahamas to learn about declining sharp populations. It was with those students that the term Scubi Jew was born, though after Rosenthal left Emory the program there ended.

Rabbi Rosenthal became head of Hillels of the Florida Suncoast, which has Hillel programs at college campuses in Pinellas, Hillsborough and Polk counties. In 2009 at Eckerd College, located on the St. Petersburg waterfront, he started a formal Scubi Jew program as a dive club for students, both Jewish and non-Jewish.


Rabbi Ed Rosenthal Rabbi Ed Rosenthal Since then, other Scubi Jew chapters have started at the University of South Florida, University of Tampa, University of Central Florida, Florida Atlantic University and the University of Miami, plus the newest chapter in Arizona. Rosenthal said he has other inquiries about starting chapters at Emory and Baruch College in New York City.

To meet the demands, Hillels of the Florida Suncoast recently hired Shayna Cohen, a master scuba diver trainer, as the new Scubi Jew program coordinator. In addition to her responsibilities to strengthen Scubi Jew at the Suncoast campuses and with other Hillels who create Scubi Jew chapters, she will work with members of the local Jewish community who are passionate about the marine environment. Prior to joining Hillel, she worked as dive guide and conservation coordinator at Rainbow Reef Dive Center in Key Largo.


University of Arizona students on their first Scubi Jew dive trip to Key Largo during spring break 2018. University of Arizona students on their first Scubi Jew dive trip to Key Largo during spring break 2018. “People always say the name Scubi Jew is so cute, but it is a serious project,” Rabbi Rosenthal explained. “The threat to the oceans is probably the greatest environmental threat to the planet as a whole and we want to raise awareness. … If we do not change, all species in the ocean will collapse by 2048, from pollution, overfishing, scientists tell us.”

To reflect those concerns and in hopes of going beyond the venture’s dive club origins and building a broader community-based Jewish Marine Environmental Organization, the overall program has been renamed, Tikkun HaYam, which means repair the sea.

“In my 30 years in the rabbinate, this is the most spiritual project I have ever done,” Rabbi Rosenthal said.

There is a Jewish element to the dives, he said, noting that a recent spring break dive trip to Key Largo included underwater meditation based on the Shema. For the non-Jewish members of the club, “they just know that they are learning something new to make themselves better citizens of the world,” he said

Among the environmental undertakings of his Scubi Jew divers is coral reef restoration in the Florida Keys, where 95 percent of the coral had died in the last 30 years. “Coral is the canary in the mine,” Rabbi Rosenthal said.

Local Scubi Jew divers often dive in the murky, low-visibility waters of Tampa Bay to clean up debris such as mono-filament fishing lines, old tires, plastic and other trash. For those dives, any guests who want to join them are welcome at no charge. When the divers go on reef repair trips to the Keys, or on other projects, there is a cost for participants, due to distance traveled and accommodations.

Scubi Jew divers have not only worked in Tampa Bay and on the coral reefs in the Keys, but also have gone on shark awareness dives in the Bahamas and participated in a “Diveheart” program where they buddy up with disabled divers. There are also manatee awareness trips to Crystal River, scuba certification courses, fish population and identification surveys, lectures and “Water Torah” learning events.

The offerings have also expanded to certification courses for middle and high school students and this summer will mark the fourth time that Scubi Jew birthright trips to Israel will take place.

Another project in the works is to make and sell mezuzah from recycled plastic debris recovered from the waters.

To accomplish some of their work Hillels of the Florida Suncoast is the only Hillel which owns its own boat, Ally’s Way, which allows access to waters for the students’ projects. The boat is named after Allison Willen, an Eckerd College Scubi Jew student who died during a study abroad trip in New Zealand. Her parents donated funds for the boat.

The expansion of the Tikkun HaYam/Scubi Jew program follows a generous grant from the Maurice A. & Thelma P. Rothman Family Foundation to train Hillel professionals in Florida.

For more information about the program, go to www.repairtheseaS.org.


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