The COVID-19 pandemic has affected many clubs at Eckerd, and Scubi Jew is no exception. But this has given the organization an unusual opportunity to reflect and expand on what it really means to achieve the mission statement of Tikkun HaYam.
“It’s been tough, we can’t stick six students in a car and send them down for six hours because that’s a lot of face to face contact,” program coordinator and 2019 alumnus Josh Keller said about quarantine restrictions.
Many of the key events Scubi Jew is known for, such as large dive trips and scuba certification classes, have had to be put on hold due to conflicts regarding social distancing and school policy.
For some time Scubi Jew was also not allowed to do its “Dive Against Debris” dives which allows divers to do clean ups underwater for man-made debris such as trash. These dives in particular are quite popular to do after the renowned party of Gasparilla in Tampa, where thousands of plastic bead necklaces are launched into Tampa waterways.
Just because these dives and courses were unable to happen did not mean Scubi Jew was on hold during quarantine. Keller, along with other Scubi Jew members and officials, began to see how the organization can stay true to its message of Tikkun HaYam which translates to “repair the sea:” a cornerstone of what Scubi Jew is.
Keller said how most faith-based groups are land based, focused mainly on planting trees, drawing from different Jewish tenets of repairing the world around them. Scubi Jew has taken that one step further into being stewards for the sea, something they believe all faiths should find sacred.
To Scubi Jew, this means sponsoring more monthly on-campus land clean ups, picking up discarded materials on our coasts. The organization sponsors “Storytime with Professors” where professors are able to go on a Zoom call with students to speak about their experiences and how they decided to get into their fields of study.
Yet one of the larger developments for Scubi Jew over quarantine is the recycled Mezuzah. Mezuzah is a small box with a blessing inscribed on a scroll that is put on the door frames in Jewish households. Scubi Jew began collecting discarded plastic water bottles, recycling the bottles, and creating a filament to 3-D print the Mezuzah which can be found on the organization’s website RepairTheSea.org.
Scubi Jew’s recycled Mezuzah project has been able to steadily expand more and more, even being the topic of an article in the Jewish Press of Tampa Bay.
The next big step in making the project even more self-sufficient: being able to recycle the bottles in-house and create homemade filament which is then used to create the eco-friendly Judaica.
“Not being able to focus solely on student interaction has given me more time to focus on other aspects of the program which is a good thing and a bad thing,” Keller said. When you can’t get students engaged you kinda work on infrastructure a little bit.”
Keller, who’s first year as program coordinator was dictated by the pandemic, says that he's been trying to keep busy and continues to look at how to further expand Scubi Jew from less of a simple club but more of a larger organization that can span different schools or even multiple nations. He hopes that once the pandemic begins to lessen its grip on the world, that Tikkun HaYam can once again continue to spread across the globe, bringing people together through the conservation of the seas.
Rabbi Ed Rosenthal, founder of Tikkun HaYam, is also hopeful for the post-pandemic future for Scubi Jew and its expansion. He is driven to continue the work of the organization to spread the idea that in all faiths, the ocean should be seen as holy and must be protected from harm by humans.
“Water unites all humanity, all creation,” Rabbi Ed said.“There are almost no faith based communities that are raising awareness about the marine environment...when the ocean dies, we die. It’s that simple.”
Rabbi Ed hopes that, in the future, more communities of faith will recognize not only the physical importance of the ocean, but the spiritual significance of it as well.
This idea is what fuels the planning of expansion of Scubi Jew. In the coming years, they wish to create more chapters of the organization that would be able to spread to other coastal and inland colleges and schools. Their purpose is to inspire more people to protect the oceans in any way possible.
Yet through all of this expansion, Keller was clear that at Eckerd, Scubi Jew must continue to be a student-led organization, with students taking the lead on creating new events, advertising them, and keeping the Scubi Jew spirit alive.
“I want the students to come up with what they want to do and have me as a resource in order to achieve those goals,” Keller said.
For students, it has been hard to not be on the same level of operation compared to past years. Senior Paul Marceski, who has been involved with Scubi Jew since 2017, noted that without the certification courses, incoming Eckerd students are not getting the same introduction to Scubi Jew that past years’ students have been able to get.
“There are a lot of marine bio. and environmental studies majors that want to get scuba certified,” said Rabbi Ed, speaking on continuing the involvement of students through eventually getting certification classes active once restrictions begin to be lifted.
However with funding coming in from donors across the country and other activities involving the organization taking place, Scubi Jew is not worried about the pandemic being a blow to the organization; it is more of a checkpoint.
Work by individuals on campus as well such as Dylan Davidoff, co-president of Scubi Jew at Eckerd, has allowed Scubi Jew to remain a staple on Eckerd’s campus, even through these turbulent times.
New activities, new beach clean-ups and creating plans for future expansion has allowed Scubi Jew to turn frustration on restrictions regarding COVID-19 into drive to create a larger, even more impactful organization.
“I’m really excited to get back into the water on a more regular basis,” Marceski said.
As more vaccines continue to roll out for faculty, staff and students, Scubi Jew remains hopeful that they will soon be able to hit the waves once more and continue their work advocating for not only the Jewish community but ocean conservation across the globe.