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60th anniversary of Israel's founding is celebrated in Tampa

Samantha Caldwell, 9, joins in singing Happy Birthday on Sunday during the Tampa Jewish Community Center & Federation’s celebration of the 60th anniversary of the founding of the Israel. The event drew 3,000 people to Al Lopez Park.

STEPHEN J. CODDINGTON | Times

Samantha Caldwell, 9, joins in singing Happy Birthday on Sunday during the Tampa Jewish Community Center & Federation’s celebration of the 60th anniversary of the founding of the Israel. The event drew 3,000 people to Al Lopez Park.

TAMPA

Haim Goldenberg took a break from the music and food and socializing at the Israel Independence Day Community Festival for a moment of prayer.

Sunday was a special day for the Odessa man who grew up in Jerusalem.

It's not just that this week marks Israel's 60th birthday as an independent nation. Also Sunday, his 19-year-old daughter, Ilana, left for her birthright trip to Israel. Birthright is a program that sends young Jewish adults to Israel.

"I want her to have a good trip," Goldenberg said, as he held his arm out for Rabbi Uriel Rivkin to administer the Tefillin, two boxes containing scrolls from the Torah, fastened onto one's arm and head with leather straps.

The purpose of the tradition is to connect one's heart and mind in prayer, Rivkin said. He called it a direct connection with God, and with history. The prayer first spoken in ancient Egypt has been repeated for thousands of years, from Jerusalem to Auschwitz to Manhattan.

Goldenberg would repeat it once more at Al Lopez Park. He began: "Hear, O Israel, the Lord is our God, the Lord is One."

More than 3,000 people gathered at the festival organized by the Tampa Jewish Community Center. Israeli dancers performed on stage. Vendors sold Israeli food. And kids played field games like the horseshoe-style Tel-Aviv Toss, and Fish in the Red Sea with a rod and a kiddie pool.

Event chair Lee Tobin said the celebration is important, because it brings all the Jewish synagogues, schools and organizations from the city together to celebrate the one place in the world that holds all Jews together.

"It's important that Israel stay alive and do what it does best in the Middle East," said co-chair Valerie Tobin, "provide a homeland and a haven."

Lori and Daniel Frenden have never been to Israel, but Sunday, they perused 15 mural displays of its cities with their 3-year-old son, Joshua.

The Frendens, New Port Richey residents, work hard to make sure Joshua understands his heritage. Lori, who grew up Jewish, had an adult Bat Mitzvah to delve deeper into her religion. And Daniel, who was raised Catholic, converted.

"This is Jerusalem," Daniel said as he showed the mural to Joshua, who wondered when he'd get to return to the big, colorful bounce house nearby. The 3-year-old waved an Israeli flag that matched the one painted on his cheek.

His dad asked him to repeat the prayer they say every night at bed time, so he did.

"God bless the Jews," Joshua said. "God bless Israel. God bless America. Amen."

Alexandra Zayas can be reached at azayas@sptimes.com or (813) 226-3354.

60th anniversary of Israel's founding is celebrated in Tampa 05/04/08 [Last modified: Monday, May 5, 2008 6:57am]

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