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Religion column

Tampa Bay organizations look to connect Jews to values, culture

Rabbi Mendel Rubashkin, dressed as Judah Maccabee, speaks with Hunter and Lily Maddron during a menorah craft event at Home Depot last month.

Courtesy of Rabbi Mendel Rubashkin

Rabbi Mendel Rubashkin, dressed as Judah Maccabee, speaks with Hunter and Lily Maddron during a menorah craft event at Home Depot last month.

A recent Pew Research survey indicates that a rising number of American Jews are finding it difficult to identify with what it means to be Jewish.

So when the Young Adult Divisions of the Tampa Jewish Community Center and the Jewish Federation of Pinellas & Pasco Counties host a Vodka Latke Luau on Dec. 24, it will be about more than just offering a new generation of Jews a place to have a traditional celebration on Christmas Eve.

"By bringing our young Jewish adults together, we are ensuring the continuity of Jewish life and values in our community," said Lisa Robbins, director of the Young Adult Division for the Tampa Jewish Community Center. "We're connecting young Jewish people to each other, to their Jewish identities, and to Jewish values, traditions and culture.

"This is one of the most important and exciting events of the year for this age group and it helps us bridge this gap."

Singles and couples are invited to dance the night away from 8 p.m. to 1 a.m. on the beach at Whiskey Joe's Bar & Grill, 7720 W Courtney Campbell Causeway.

Flip-flops are recommended for this adults-only event, known in past years as simply Vodka Latke.

Tickets are $25 if purchased by Monday or $36 at the door. Guests will enjoy a latke bar, s'mores and other foods with an open bar from 8 to 9 p.m. After 9 p.m., a cash bar opens. The night's festivities include a limbo contest.

For more information or to purchase tickets, visit

Meanwhile, an organization has formed in Valrico to help explore and honor Judaism without the commitment of belonging to a traditional synagogue.

The Jewish Discovery Center, 1578 Bloomingdale Ave., offers services, classes and programs open to all, including monthly Shabbat dinners, children's music programs and classes with titles such as "Where Did all the Miracles Go?" and "Why Kosher?"

No membership is required.

Rabbi Mendel and Tzippy Rubashkin invite the public to learn more at a grand opening celebration at 1 p.m. Sunday.

"Our goal is for people to have the opportunity to choose one or more Jewish experiences to their liking and that they think would play into their lives as a whole, as opposed to an all-or-nothing experience," Mendel Rubashkin said.

In November, the JDC hosted a menorah building event at Home Depot in Brandon. More than 125 people attended. Together, participants build a menorah out of canned foods collected that day. The goods were later distributed to area charities.

Rubashkin said he wants to bring Jewish life out into the community.

"I want to create more off-site experiences," Rubashkin said. "Our message is there is no need to be intimidated by Judaism."

For more information on the JDC, visit

Sarah Whitman can be reached at


Bell Shoals Baptist, 2102 Bell Shoals Road, presents "Experience Christmas," a display of dazzling holiday sights and sounds extolling the miracle of Christmas. Performances are tonight at 7 p.m. and Saturday at 2:30 and 7 p.m. All seating is reserved. Discount available for tickets purchased in groups of 10 or more

St. John's Episcopal Church, 902 S Orleans Ave., Tampa, will present its annual Christmas Concert at 5 p.m. Sunday. The show is free. The church will present its Festival of Lessons and Carols at 10 a.m. Dec. 22. The event includes Bible readings, carols, stories and hymns. A Christmas pageant is at 4 p.m. Dec. 24. For more information, visit

Tampa Bay organizations look to connect Jews to values, culture 12/11/13 [Last modified: Wednesday, December 11, 2013 3:02pm]
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