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Hillel on the High Seas

How Eckerd College Hillel is honoring one of its own
by Hillel News |Jan 13, 2017|Comments

Ally's Way
Members of Scubi Jew, Eckerd College Hillel’s environmentally focused diving program, embark on Ally's Way for a reef-cleanup mission.

Passionate about the environment, Ally Willen was the kind of Hillel student who would pick up a piece of litter and carry it until she found a recycling bin. She loved to spend time outdoors and received her SCUBA certification through Scubi Jew, Eckerd College Hillel’s environmentally focused diving program.

While studying abroad in New Zealand her junior year, in 2015, Ally died in a hiking accident.

Her loss left Todd and Michelle Willen, Ally’s parents, wanting to honor their daughter’s advocacy for the environment and love of Hillel.

Knowing Hillel was previously forced to take out expensive charters for each planned environmental dive, the Willens decided to donate a new SeaRay vessel to Scubi Jew.

And thus, Ally’s Way was launched.

Traditionally, a new boat is Christened before she makes her maiden voyage, by smashing a champagne bottle on her bow and giving her a name.

But what about a Jewish boat like Ally’s Way? A Christening wouldn’t quite be appropriate. Ed Rosenthal, Hillels of the Florida Suncoast executive director, had a solution.

“I looked to our tradition for the ceremony where a name is given, and of course when a baby boy is born, he is given his name at the Brit Milah Ceremony,” he said. “[This] presented another problem, because the adaptation I could come up with was to pour a bottle of Manischewitz over the bow and cut off a couple inches from the exhaust pipe.”

Boats, however, are generally referred to as female, so Rosenthal had to find a different Jewish tradition to drawn upon for inspiration.

“In the Sephardic tradition, the ceremony for naming and celebrating the arrival of a daughter (bat, in Hebrew) is called ‘Zeved HaBat,’ the precious gift of a daughter,” he said.

And so, it was decided the new arrival would be named at a “Zeved HaBoat” ceremony, before Scubi Jew could embark on its mission of Tikkun HaYam (repairing the ocean).

With the use of their new boat, Scubi Jew has adopted two coral reefs, and will make repeated dives to clean them.


Members of Scubi Jew tag debris underwater during a cleanup mission.

While Ally won’t be able to join them in body, she’ll always be there in spirit.

Said Rosenthal, “I know she would be happier than anyone to see this boat being used to clean up our Bay.”

Alternative Spring Break - Eckerd Hillel's Scubi Jew trip to the Bahamas
On an alternative spring break trip to the Bahamas, members of Scubi Jew pose with their marine friends.


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