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Learning series connects Jewish residents from Pinellas, Pasco and Hernando counties

An upcoming session will focus on Jewish values of positive speech.
Students performing original rap songs with visiting Bible Rap artist Matt Barr at the first Kesher session in August. [Rabbi Danielle Upbin]
Students performing original rap songs with visiting Bible Rap artist Matt Barr at the first Kesher session in August. [Rabbi Danielle Upbin]
Published Nov. 7, 2019

ST. PETERSBURG — Kesher is the Hebrew word for connection, and the Jewish Federation of Florida’s Gulf Coast has chosen it as the name of a series of programs designed to connect Jews of all ages, with a special emphasis on children.

The programs seek to involve the diverse Jewish community in Pinellas, Pasco and Hernando counties, embracing equally those who attend synagogues and temples or not, and those with any type of Jewish familial relationship.

“The program and the purpose of it is to connect members of the community together,” said Rabbi Danielle Upbin, a community educator for the Federation and associate rabbi at Congregation Beth Shalom in Clearwater. The idea is to “bring people together in studying Jewish texts and ideas and to create interpersonal relationships within the Jewish community.”

Rabbi Danielle Upbin is a community educator for the Jewish Federation of Florida's Gulf Coast and associate rabbi at Congregation Beth Shalom in Clearwater. [Rabbi Danielle Upbin]

Designed as a series, the focus of November’s session will be, "Speaking Volumes: From Ancient Arguments to Modern Meanings, From Raising Our Voices to Remaining Silent, Explore How and Why Words Matter.”

It’s being offered in conjunction with the Global Day of Jewish Learning, a worldwide educational initiative. The program may particularly resonate in the United States. “As a country," a media release for the upcoming session states," "we find ourselves in a time of increasing discord and acrimony.” With that in mind, November’s gathering seeks “to promote the Jewish values of positive speech, peacemaking, and effective communication.”

"We particularly want to instill those values in young people,” Upbin said.

The Kesher initiative, she said, was the inspiration of a member of the local Jewish community who wanted Jewish children in the area to meet other Jewish kids.

He wanted “to create connections and for the young people to meet other children they would not otherwise meet in their congregations. He wanted them to see that they are part of a bigger community, a bigger picture,” Upbin said.

“I took the germ of that idea and expanded it to include adult education. The idea morphed into something a little more complex, adult education, education for teens and early childhood. So we are calling it community-wide and multi-generational Jewish education. The way to get the children there is to get their parents and grandparents and caretakers involved.”

The first Kesher program, on health and wellness, drew 200 people in August. The Nov. 24 session will be held at the St. Petersburg College Seminole Campus, 9200 113th St. “We are renting space from them," Upbin said. "We wanted to be in a public forum. We didn’t want to hold this program in a temple or synagogue. We wanted to make it so that everyone feels welcome to attend.”

The session seeks to promote “positive discourse and understanding of the power of our words," Upbin said. "That is a foundational Jewish idea that we value our words and that we value communication. We are known as the ‘People of the Book’ and that is because we value the Torah, the prayer book and history. This is bringing out the idea that words matter, because that’s how we express ourselves.”

The topic is not unique to the federation, but connected to the Global Day of Jewish Learning, she said. “We are partnering with this international organization that will have hundreds of similar programs around the world. Each year, they choose a new theme and make their material available. We are using some of their resources as well as creating our own,” she said.

Participants will include synagogues and temples from across the area, spanning Orthodox, Conservative, Reform and Renewal traditions, and organizations such as the Florida Holocaust Museum and Gulf Coast Jewish Family Services. The session will begin with an improvisational comedy show featuring guest artists The Bible Players.

“This session will include a serious approach to the subject, such as historical analysis and presentations by hate speech experts," Upbin said. "However, we wanted to include a nontraditional method such as comedy, which will be used to teach communication in a creative and memorable way.”

If you go

"Speaking Volumes: From Ancient Arguments to Modern Meanings, From Raising Our Voices to Remaining Silent, Explore How and Why Words Matter,” Nov. 24, St. Petersburg College Seminole Campus, 9200 113th St. Seminole. Registration begins at 9:30 a.m., the program, 10 a.m. to noon, followed by lunch. For information and to register, go to JewishGulfCoast.org/Kesher.

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