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2018-05-18 digital edition
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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 © 2009-2019 The Jewish Press Group of Tampa Bay, Inc., All Rights Reserved. 


May 18, 2018  RSS feed
Front Page

Text: T T T

Birthright alum invited to beach reunion June 10

By BOB FRYER Jewish Press

Jonathan Bowman rides a camel in the Negev desert during his Birthright trip in 2006. Jonathan Bowman rides a camel in the Negev desert during his Birthright trip in 2006. Anyone in the Tampa Bay area who has ever been on a Taglit-Birthright trip since the program that sends young adults to Israel began in 1999 is invited to a reunion on the beach in Treasure Island on Sunday, June 10.

The free Birthright Beach Bash begins at 5:30 p.m. and will end at sunset. The event is sponsored by the Tampa Federation and the Jewish Federation of Pinellas and Pasco Counties in partnership with Hillels of the Florida Suncoast. Singles, couples and families are welcome.

At the reunion, Birthright alumni will be transported back to the sights and sounds of Israel, a time for reconnecting with Birthright friends, sharing stories, enjoying Israeli food, playing games and participating in a service project to Repair the Seas (Tikkun Ha’Yam).

Among those planning to attend are Melanie and Jonathan Bowman of St. Petersburg, who both said their trips – Melanie in 2005 and Jonathan in 2006 – served to strengthen their bonds to both Israel and Judaism – major goals of those who created the Birthright program.

Josh Bloom’s 2001 Birthright group wades in the water at the Nahal Snir Nature Reserve in Israel. Josh Bloom’s 2001 Birthright group wades in the water at the Nahal Snir Nature Reserve in Israel. The founders of Taglit [the Hebrew word for discovery] Birthright wanted young adults of Jewish heritage to discover new meaning in their personal Jewish identity and to connect to Jewish history and culture through Israel – all without the impediment of cost. The free 10-day trips are restricted to those aged 18-26 (now with limited expansion to age 32). Since trips began, more than 600,000 from 67 countries have participated in the program – now at a rate of 40,000 a year – with the vast majority of participants from the United States and Canada.

“It [the trip] gives you a real respect for Israel, for members of their army and what they do,” Jonathan said, adding that his sunrise hike to Masada, (regarded by many as a sacred place of Jewish resistance to Roman rule), was “a very spiritual experience.”

Michael Tebbi was taken aback when he spotted graffiti in Hebrew during his Birthright trip. Michael Tebbi was taken aback when he spotted graffiti in Hebrew during his Birthright trip. Melanie, who went on her trip before she met Jonathan, was also impacted by it. “My Birthright trip sparked a love and concern for Israel. Now that I’ve been to Israel, I would do anything to protect it. After climbing Masada, visiting the Kotel and walking the streets of Jerusalem, the story I tell myself about who I am changed forever. My Birthright trip deeply connected me to the story of Judaism.”

Jonathan said Melanie had finished her trip when he met her at a Vodka Latke event in the Tampa Bay area, just before he was to go on his trip. He said when he returned from his trip, they began dating.

Soon after their trips both became more involved in the local Jewish community, taking turns as president of the Federation’s Young Adult Division, serving on the Federation board and getting involved in the Jewish National Fund. The birth of two children since their trips has taken time away from participation in local Jewish organizations, but Jonathan said as the kids get older they would love to take them to Israel.

Jonathan grew up in Clearwater and is founder and CEO of Harmony Home Health in Largo. Melanie, who grew up in Tampa, is owner of Caregiver Strategies and Support.

Yet another local Birthright participant, Josh Bloom, who lives in Pinellas Park and went on a Birth right tour in 2001, said even before he went to Israel, he had an affinity toward the Jewish state. His mother lived on a kibbutz for about a year after she finished high school, so he was raised knowing about the culture in Israel.

“Israel is our homeland, so I always wanted to go there and see my homeland. … I absolutely loved being there,” Bloom said.

Not only was he touched by his tour of Yad Vashem, Israel’s official memorial to the Holocaust, but after he returned, he created a Power- Point presentation on Yad Vashem and the Holocaust for a college class he was taking. His professor was so impressed he got Josh to return for presentations to other classes, something he liked doing until marriage and a baby made life too busy to continue. He said lecturing on the Holocaust helped him feel stronger about his faith and have a greater appreciation “for what others have gone through.”

Josh, who does technology support and audio-visual engineering for St. Petersburg College, said he continues to have a strong affinity toward the Israeli people. He said when he hears news reports of people accusing Israel of attacking people, his response is, “No, we do not attack until after we are attacked.”

Soon after his return from his Birthright trip Bloom began going to temple again and he said his wife is in the process of converting to Judaism.

Visits to the Western Wall, the Dead Sea, Yad Vashem and Masada are common for Birthright participants, but one sight that caught 2008 participant Michael Tebbi off guard: “Seeing graffiti in Hebrew left an impression. It’s a mundane thing that blends into the background for people there but was an oddity to me – graffiti in the same language as holy prayers.”

An attorney who grew up in Tampa and still lives here, Tebbi said the people of Israel were like people everywhere, focused on their day-to-day issues and with a wide range of personalities. “In general people had the humor, sharp wit, and sometimes abrupt character traits I expected.”

Tebbi said his Birthright trip served as more of a confirmation of his Jewish commitment than a spiritual awakening. “I was pretty involved in the Jewish community in college and law school before my Birthright trip and remained so afterwards. I was a regular at Hillel and Chabad both before and after the trip,” he said.

Like the Bowmans and Bloom, Tebbi said, “I supported Israel before going and still do after.”

* * *

Those who know a Birthright alum living in the Tampa Bay area are asked to send their contact information to Lisa Robbins, director of young adult engagement for the Tampa JCCs and Federation, so they can be sent a personal invitation to the reunion. Robbins can be contacted at (813) 769-4723 or

Those planning to go to the reunion should RSVP by going to Location details will be shared upon receiving RSVPs.

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