tampabay.com

Jewish preschool may open

If approved, the school would serve the eastern part of the county.

By MINDY RUBENSTEIN
Published June 12, 2007


Nearly six months after two Tampa Bay area Jewish federations agreed to carve up Pasco, there still aren't many new offerings for Jews in the eastern part of the county.

But that may be changing soon.

Last year the Jewish Federation in Pinellas changed its name to the Jewish Federation of Pinellas and Pasco Counties and headed north. It threw a Hanukkah party in Wesley Chapel to spread the word and started thinking about long-term programs to serve the growing Jewish community here.

But the Tampa Federation also wanted its share of the county.

"Pasco County is way too big an area for us to service. It makes sense that Tampa would sort of take over some of those responsibilities, " said Pinellas' Executive Director Bonnie Friedman.

So Pinellas took everything west of Interstate 75, and Tampa took everything to the east.

"We anticipate growing slowly, " said Gary Gould, chief executive officer of Tampa Jewish Community Center and Federation.

This summer, the Tampa federation will do a feasibility study to determine if a JCC preschool should open in the east Pasco area, Gould said.

If it decides to go through with it, he estimates opening a school by September 2008.

"There are more and more young Jewish families moving up to that area, and there is a need for a Jewish preschool, " Gould said, adding that he is making an intuitive statement, not based on demographics. "We're still in the learning phase."

Three hundred of the Tampa federation's donors are from east Pasco.

"So we see that there are significant numbers of people that are already aligned with our organization, " he said.

The Tampa JCC currently operates an accredited preschool in Citrus Park, with satellite campuses in South Tampa and Brandon.

"There's a significant number of non-Jewish families that attend, " he said, though the school offers a Judaic curriculum.

Jamie Beer, a mother of three who lives in Seven Oaks, worked with several other local moms to establish transportation to the Citrus Park campus preschool. A van will meet at Sam's Club to take the children to and from school in the fall.

She rarely attends other functions held at the JCC.

"I'm having a hard time because I'm not as close by, " she said.

She and other Jews in the east Pasco area are hoping for a central location to congregate.

"If there was a place we could all go to, we would find each other, " Beer said.

The federation also hopes to offer a Jewish Mommy and Me program soon in Pasco. And social services agency Gulf Coast Jewish Family Services recently expanded its coverage into Pasco, Gould said.

The federations are working with Jewish Community Center of West Pasco County, as well as Rabbi Yossi Eber with Chabad Jewish Center of West Pasco.

Rabbi Yossi and Dina Eber moved to Trinity last year in an effort to reach out to the areas unaffiliated Jews, around 3, 000 according to unofficial estimates by Chabad.

"In Pasco itself from one end of the county to the other is like 45 minutes. It's very hard to cover everybody, " Rabbi Eber said. He has people come from Dade City, Zephyrhills and Wesley Chapel.

"There's nothing else going on there now. Whoever wants to make the drive, you're more than welcome."

Rabbi Uriel Rivkin runs a Chabad house in Temple Terrace near the University of South Florida and hopes to do more outreach in this area.

"We definitely have plans. We're not sure what the next year is going to bring, " said Rivkin. "There's a definite need. We've met plenty of Jews that say they live out in Wesley Chapel."

Temple Ohev Shalom in Tampa Palms offers services and Sunday school at its 3, 000-square-foot facility, built last year, and some residents make the 20-minute drive there from parts of Pasco. The synagogue is unaffiliated and does not have a rabbi on staff; most services are led by congregants.

Steve and Jennifer Rakita live in Seven Oaks with their 7-year-old daughter and currently attend Ohev Shalom.

Jennifer converted to Judaism nine years ago and has been taking Hebrew lessons from another member of her temple.

She'd like to see some sort of adult education or Torah classes offered near her home.

The Jewish population in the Tampa Bay area is small compared to cities like Miami, New York and Los Angeles, but Eber and others in the area would like to work together to see the community grow and learn.

"We're here for everybody, " he said.