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The Growing Tampa Bay-Israel Connection


Concerts by the Upper Galilee youth troupe and the Jerusalem Aterna Opera Company. A visit with artisans in the mystical city of Safed. A performance by the Masa Dance Journey at Kibbutz Ga'aton. An experience with a deaf-blind acting ensemble at Nalaga'at Theatre.

It's an understatement to say that the upcoming Tampa Bay arts and cultural exchange with Israel will be a celebration of talent and diversity through the arts.
 
"It's one thing to visit the sites and another to learn the culture through art. Art takes us to another level, beyond politics. You learn so much about the soul of what people are trying to do and cope with and celebrate,'' says Judi Lisi, director of the Straz Center for the Performing Arts in Tampa.
 
Lisi is one of three honorary co-chairs going on a Nov. 4-13 trip to Israel. The other co-chairs are Dr. Zena Lansky, a philanthropist and arts patron in Pinellas County, and Ina Porth, the past president and current board member of the Jewish Federation of Greater Orlando

For more information on the trip and to register to go along, visit the Tampa Jewish Community Center & Federation website.
 
In addition, well-known Tampa musician Fred Johnson has been invited and will perform his unique, interactive Sound Sculpture sessions during the visit.

The eight-day trip to historical sites and arts venues is sponsored by the Tampa-Orlando-Pinellas-Pasco Jewish Federation Alliance, a new regional affiliation that brings together three separate Jewish organizations for the first time.
 
Established this past spring, the affiliation allows each organization to continue operating separately, while gaining the benefits that come from sharing resources, best practices and talent, as well as the potential for cutting costs, says
Mark Segel, executive director for the Jewish Federation of Pinellas and Pasco counties. 
 
It's also about clout. A regional alliance unifies the federations' voice on various issues and gives us a bigger impact, says Emely Katz, a spokesperson for the Jewish Federation of Greater Orlando. For example, she points to the upcoming cultural exchange.

"We would not have been able to achieve the level of  our itinerary without the strength of the new alliance,'' says Katz.
 
Trips to Israel are part of the mission for Jewish Federations around the country, says Lisa Robbins, director of outreach and engagement initiatives for the Tampa Jewish Community Center and Federation.  So is fundraising -- both for Israel and humanitarian projects globally.

"Taking a group to Israel gives donors an opportunity to see first-hand where their funds are going and how the money is making a difference,'' says Robbins.
 
Together, Tampa Bay's Jewish Federations raise more than $650,000 annually for projects in Israel and around the world, says Robbins. 
 
Focus On Technology & Business
 
While the arts and cultural exchange is the first combined mission for the new alliance, it's not the first group trip to Israel. Last year Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn led a Tampa Jewish Federation-sponsored trip that focused on trade and economic development. 
 
A group of 30 participants, including Alfred Goldberg, president of North American Operations for Absolute Mobile Solutions, and Terry Aidman, senior partner with Cherry Bekaert and Holland, visited high-tech companies such as electric car company Better Place, and a municipal recycling center in Ashdod that converts waste to energy.
 
Just by chance, Mayor Buckhorn's group happened to be in Israel at the same time as a team from CAMLS, the University of South Florida Tampa's Center for Advanced Medical Learning and Simulation. That proved a fortunate coincidence. 

"The mayor has the opportunity to spend time attending some of our business development meetings with our Israeli partners,'' says Beverly Hughes, CAMLS COO.
 
CAMLS connection with Israel is significant. One of the reasons the team was there, says Hughes, was to finalize an Israel-U.S. Binational Industrial Research and Development (BIRD) grant that is funding a combined CAMLS and Simbionix project for a laparoscopic hysterectomy simulator. 
 
Simbionix, is a leading provider of simulation, training and education for healthcare and has a major presence at CAMLS' downtown Tampa facility.
 
The CAMLS trip also included meetings with additional strategic healthcare partners related to ongoing projects, says Hughes. These include discussions with the research and development team for Phillips Healthcare, with EarlySense, an Israeli company that makes patient monitoring systems, and with Objet, which manufactures three-dimensional printed prototypes for new medical devices. Each of the companies brings something to table to allow CAMLS to showcase state-of-the-art medical education and conduct research and development on new medical devices.
 
But the connection with Israel doesn't stop in Tampa. It also extends to Sarasota.
 
Sarasota's Mote Marine Laboratory, has had a long relationship with Israel since Eugenie Clark, the organization's founder, worked with marine scientists there on shark research, says Dr. Michael Crosby, Mote's senior VP for research. 
 
More recently that relationship has been formalized with the development of an official Mote-Israel Cooperative Marine Research Program that Crosby is spearheading. 
 
The new marine research program is expected to tackle a number of important areas,  including marine biotechnology and marine biomedical research, but initially study will focus on ocean acidification and the damage it is doing to coral reefs around the world.
 
A $15,000 grant from the Jewish Federation of Sarasota and Manatee, is helping fund  the coral reef research, which will take place at Mote's satellite coral reef research facility in the Florida Keys and at marine laboratories in Eilat, an Israel city at the northern tip of the Red Sea on the Gulf of Aqaba.

Janan Talafer is a freelance writer in St. Petersburg, FL, who shares a home office with her dog Bear and two cats Milo and Nigel. Comments? Contact 83 Degrees.
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