WUFT- UF Chabad Jewish Center Hosts State’s Largest Passover Seders

Note: This article was initially published on the WUFT site on 4/10/17. 

Link: https://www.wuft.org/news/2017/04/10/uf-chabad-jewish-center-hosts-states-largest-passover-seders/

The Lubavitch Chabad Jewish Center at the University of Florida will host the largest Passover Seders in Florida this week.

Both of the Seders are open to the public and free of charge with an online RSVP and are occurring Monday and Tuesday nights.

The Passover Seder is a ceremony held on the first two nights of the eight day holiday. The traditional Jewish holiday celebrates through prayer, symbolic acts and traditions with the two halves of the night divided by a meal.

Aron Notik, one of the center’s two rabbis, said although it is hard to tell exactly how many people will attend beforehand, it is safe to say these Seders are the largest in Florida.

Berl Goldman, Notik’s co-rabbi, said no one has been able to prove that they aren’t the largest in the United States.

He said the majority of the first night turnout will be comprised of University of Florida students, while the second Seder will bring in a more varied population from the community.

Both Rabbis said they are set to receive roughly 700 guests the first night, followed by around 400 on the second.

“That’s past 1,000 just for the Seders alone,” Goldman said.

Notik said he attributes this turnout to the inconvenient timing of the holiday this year. Both Seders are on weeknights two weeks before UF’s final exams, making it difficult for students to return home to spend the holiday with their families.

“Everyone here is away from home,” Notik said. “If our students lived within an hour away from home, we’d have no one.”

photo 5
The Seder plate is a dish filled with symbolic items to help facilitate the Passover Seder. More than 1,000 guests will use plates identical to the one pictured over the course of Monday and Tuesday. 

That is why Alexis Burton said she will be spending her Seders with the Chabad.

“It’s too close to finals to go home,” the UF senior said.

Although she said she has been regularly attending services at the Jewish center since August 2016, this will be her first Seder with the synagogue.

As the Chabad provides kosher-for-Passover lunches and dinners for the remaining six days of the holiday, the synagogue is preparing roughly 2,500 meals.

“It takes an army to do what we’re doing,” Goldman said.

photo 4.jpg
Volunteers help set tables for the Chabad’s Seders. More than 50 volunteers have offered their services throughout the past week.

Volunteers from both the university and the Gainesville community have been a comfort and inspiration to Goldman and Notik.

Mazal Fernandez, a regular Chabad attendee, is one of these helpers.

“It’s very humbling to be part of something really big,” she said.

Fernandez said she saw the unprecedented amount of reservations, and decided to help by unpacking food and decorating.

“You need people to come here and bring it to life.”

In order to support the time and resources needed to host Seders of this scale, Goldman and Notik organized a phonathon and online donation pool, both of which will be active through the end of the holiday.

As of Monday, they are roughly two-thirds of the way toward their goal of raising $76,000.

“It relieves some of the financial pressure,” Goldman said.

photo 6.jpg
Rabbi Goldman facilitates the burning of chametz, or non-kosher-for-Passover food, outside of his synagogue. In order to hold a legitimate Passover Seder, none of this food can be on the premises.

Both rabbis said they have seen the challenges that Seders of this scale pose.

“It’s hard for a large crowd to follow a 15 step process,” Notik said.

In order to partially combat such difficulties, they are hiring captains for each table. These volunteers will help their respective tables keep up with the main Seder, which will be conducted by the rabbis.

“It will help us do the Seder more efficiently,” Goldman said.

Both Notik and Goldman said, regardless of affiliation level or reservation, no one will be turned down at their Seders.

“You’re Jewish, it’s Passover, come and experience the Seder,” Notik said.

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WUFT- Gainesville Pokémon Go Community Stays Active With New Update

Note: This article was initially published on the WUFT site on 2/20/17. 

Link: https://www.wuft.org/news/2017/02/20/gainesville-pokemon-go-community-stays-active-with-new-update/

Tillissa Barcia sat at a Starbucks in Downtown Gainesville on Saturday morning. Although she was lounging with her husband Steven, and her two children Austin and Abery, none of them were sipping a coffee.

This Starbucks is what Pokémon Go players refer to as a PokeStop. Two more of the item-spewing stations surround the street corner.

For Barcia, these frequent “Pokémon Go adventures” allow the family to spend quality time together, regardless of her post-traumatic stress disorder and her daughter’s cerebral palsy.

“We spend more time together, and I enjoy the discovery,” said Barcia. “I continue playing it for that reason.”

Steven Barcia, wife Tillissa Barcia, and her daughter Abery play Pokémon GO together. The Starbucks pictured is a PokeStop, a location where players can collect in-game items. (Joshua Klafter/WUFT News)

On Thursday, the mobile game Pokémon Go launched its largest update since its initial release in July 2016. Not only were 80 new Pokémon made available to catch, new gameplay features were implemented as well.

Despite a decline in popularity nationwide, Pokémon Go has remained alive in Gainesville.

Barcia and her husband serve as two of the three administrators of Pokémon Go: Gainesville,  a growing Facebook group centered around the game. Barcia said the group has grown steadily from 10 to 715 members as of Monday.

Despite the size of the group’s membership, Steven said there are only about 50 players who actively post. He said posting is not the only mark of participation, however. The majority of group members use the page to find tips and advice.

“They post what they find there so other people can use it,” Steven said.

Despite group growth, Barcia said the actual community isn’t as burgeoning. “There’s also been a lot of players, they’ve played for seven months, caught everything they wanted to,” she said. “They’ve said we’re kind of done for now, but we’ll come back when the next generation comes out.”

Ken Humphlett, group moderator and owner of Dependable Ken Tech Support, said the Gainesville community hasn’t declined, but redirected itself.

“The gym community is still very active,” he said. “This hardcore group of people, they’re always playing.”

When starting the game, players may choose to align themselves with one of three teams: Mystic, Valor, or Instinct. Teams then battle each other to gain control of “gyms”, which represent real-world territory.

Humphlett said this shift in community focus from catching Pokémon to taking gyms has created some hostility.

“As more people get into gyms, it creates a competitive dynamic,” he said.

Both Humphlett and Barcia agree that the fun has come back to the game with the implementation of Pokémon from the second generation of the series.

“A lot of players are kind of crawling out from the shadows now that there’s something new,” Barcia said. “People are returning.”

Although every member of the family expressed their excitement, the Barcias said they didn’t require a new generation to renew their interest in the game.

“It’s just time with family and discovering things we never would have,” Barcia said. “I would have never been on a nature trail with alligators that close.”

Other than medical appointments for her children, Barcia said she used to rarely leave the house. After getting involved with Pokémon Go, she begged for excursions.

“This is helping my PTSD, I’m going out as a family to do this,” she said.

Kelli Granade, the office manager of the University of Florida’s Linguistics Department, also said she uses the game to spend time with her family. She said one of her fondest memories is running around her neighborhood with her husband and son, trying to catch the rare Pokémon Snorlax.

Humphlett said he had no interest in the Pokémon franchise prior to the game’s release. It was the two youngest of his five sons that convinced him to download the game.

“Seeing the excitement on their faces when they catch something new,” is what he said keeps him coming back to Pokémon Go.

As her son wandered around the coffee shop trying to catch a new Pokémon, Barcia guided her daughter’s fingers across the screen of her phone. Steven paralleled the motion on his phone; they were all laughing.

WUFT- Alachua County Sheriff’s Office Prepares For Potential Terrorist Threats

Note: This article was initially published on the WUFT site on 2/10/17. 

Link: https://www.wuft.org/news/2017/02/10/alachua-county-sheriffs-office-prepares-for-potential-terrorist-threats/

President Trump spoke Tuesday at the National Sheriff’s Association’s winter meeting. Opening and closing his speech with warnings regarding potential terrorism, Trump said he plans to give sheriffs the weapons they need to do their jobs effectively.

Trump’s speech was bookended by statements on the importance of local law enforcement in the fight against terror.

The Alachua County Sheriff’s Office (ACSO) already understands this importance. The ACSO has increased its efforts to combat terrorism in its jurisdiction.

Lt. Brandon Kutner, Alachua County Sheriff’s spokesman, said the ACSO has always been conscious of potential terrorist threats, but the recent attacks in San Bernardino, Calif. and Orlando, Fla., have spurred more intense preparation efforts. Kutner said these measures include participation in more frequent and varied training programs, and the acquisition of more advanced equipment.

“Whether it be an improvised explosive device, or if someone’s just really hell bent on causing harm to as many people as possible, we have plans in place to deal with that,” he said.

Kutner said the ACSO is part of a Regional Domestic Security Task Force, which allows them to collaborate with other sheriff’s offices in Northeast Florida, including those in Jacksonville and Marion County.

“We share a support network of equipment, personnel and training in order to combat what we describe as domestic terrorism,” he said.

The Florida Department of Law enforcement website said these task forces are the foundation of domestic security in Florida. The task forces also serve as a force multiplier in the case of an attack.

The Jacksonville and Marion County Sheriff’s Offices participate in annual training exercises with the ACSO, which Kutner said is made possible by participation in the task force.

Despite a recent boost in their efforts, such as participation in training courses across both the state and country, the ACSO only received $1,766 from the task force in 2016. Although the ACSO was unable to confirm how much they were awarded in 2015, Kutner said it was much higher.

Kutner said the reason the ACSO received a lesser amount than what they’re used to is because of the task force’s funding division system. Money is allotted proportionally based on which county needs funding the most. Therefore, Kutner said the amount of new equipment, such as a rook and armored personnel carrier, and staff they already have caused the task force to allot the ACSO less.

The spokesman said another major source of financial support comes from the United States Department of Homeland Security. This funding is not allotted annually, but for a two to three year period. According to the Department of Homeland Security website, these grants may be used for equipment purchases, training programs and other terrorism combatant and preparation efforts.

Kutner said because of the length of this range, recent terrorist activity has not yet been reflected in the amount of funding received. He said the ACSO is unable to disclose the amount the federal government funding provided for the current period.

This funding is directed toward equipment acquisition and upkeep, as well as monthly training programs for all related teams, Kutner said.

Despite having less money to work with, Kutner said the ACSO is using the equipment and training its various terrorism combatant teams to continue to be prepared.

In a press release from ACSO, Sheriff Sadie Darnell cited an award-winning SWAT Team, an FBI-certified bomb team and a marine operations team as a few of the divisions actively training for potential terror threats.

This is similar to the Orange County Sheriff’s Office, who faced the Pulse Nightclub attack. It actively trains its SWAT team and a hazardous device team for potential terrorist threats.

Kutner said because the training offered in Alachua County sometimes isn’t enough, the ACSO sends teams across the state and nation to participate in specialized training courses.

Alexis Burton, a Gainesville resident, said she feels safe in Alachua County, and she trusts the police to protect her from terror.

Gainesville resident Jacob Zieper doesn’t see terrorism as a threat to Alachua County.

“Anti-semitic attacks I can absolutely see,” he said. “But in terms of organized terror, I can’t imagine they’d bother with Alachua.”

He said a lack of potential targets in Alachua County justified his opinion.

In the case of an unexpected attack, however, Zieper said he completely trusts the ACSO to protect him.

Kutner disagrees with sentiments of terrorism not being a threat to Alachua County. He cited the University of Florida’s football stadium and nuclear engineering school as prime targets for an attack.

“You have 90,000 people that are packed into a stadium for a Saturday home game,” Kutner said. “That’s a potential issue for us with regard to homeland security.”

In order to prevent an attack of this nature, the ACSO has been working with the University of Florida Police Department, as well as the Gainesville Police Department, by carrying out a screening process at all games.

He said obvious targets aren’t the only Alachua County locations that are threatened — it could happen anywhere.

“No one would say that a nightclub in Orlando would be a specific target for a terrorist attack, but we saw what happened down there,” Kutner said. “No one would say an office building in San Bernardino, California, would be the target of a terrorist attack, but again, it happened, and the local authorities had to be prepared for that.”

Kutner said the police aren’t the only personnel who need to be active in the fight against potential terror. He said he urges all citizens to be alert and aware of their surroundings.

In August 2016, the ACSO joined the Nixle alert program. This mobile service not only allows Alachua County residents to receive alerts on nearby criminal activity, but citizens can text ACSO with anything suspicious they would like to report using the phone number 888-777. They may attach photos and/or videos to these messages.

The sheriff’s office participates in the statewide “If you See Something, Say Something” campaign. In a press release, Sheriff Darnell said to call 1-855-352-7233 if residents notice any suspicious activity.

“The citizens know best,” Kutner said. “If you’re at home and you realize that car that’s been parked across the street is not normally there, as a deputy patrols through that neighborhood, that deputy is not going to know if that’s a normal thing.”

WUFT- North Central Florida Collectors Share Stories at Museum’s Collectors Day

Note: This article was initially published on the WUFT site on 1/24/17. 

Link: http://www.wuft.org/news/2017/01/24/north-central-florida-collectors-share-stories-at-museums-collectors-day/

 

Two hundred collectors gathered for the 38th annual Collectors Day at the Florida Museum of Natural History on Saturday. Although collections vastly differed, all were bound together by a common thread: a story.

Myena Kerns—Teddy Bear Collector

Myena Kerns said her teddy bear collection stemmed from a childhood love.

“I had a teddy bear when I was a child,” she said. “It was my companion growing up and all through my life.”

(Joshua Klafter/WUFT News)
(Joshua Klafter/WUFT News)

Unlike most collectors, Kerns doesn’t acquire new items through purchases or donations— she creates her own.

“They’re fun to make,” she said. “Each one has a distinct personality and each one of them looks different.”

The Newberry resident — who said she takes bear individuality to heart — pointed to a brown bear sporting a bright red bow tie sitting high on a large pile of stuffed animals.

(Joshua Klafter/WUFT News)
(Joshua Klafter/WUFT News)

“This is considered our baby,” she said. “His name is Wellington. He wears baby clothes.”

Although Kerns has been collecting since her childhood, the first bear she made was a gift.

“I made stuffed toys for my children and grandchildren, and it just evolved from that,” she said.

Jennifer Lewis — Spatula Collector

(Joshua Klafter/WUFT News)
(Joshua Klafter/WUFT News)

Spatula collector Jennifer Lewis said her 28-year spatula collecting journey began as a joke.

She said middle school friend gave her a spatula for Christmas, a riff on their shared love for the ‘Spatula City’ commercial in the “Weird Al” Yankovic film “UHF.”

“That started it as a silly thing, but then I really started to notice them everywhere,” she said.

The Gainesville native said some of her favorite spatulas — out of a collection just shy of 2,000 items — were Florida Gator themed but she has grown particularly fond of a spatula she calls “the gnarly and big one, with the bull.”

(Joshua Klafter/WUFT News)
(Joshua Klafter/WUFT News)

When asked about the total value of her collection, she said value is decided individually.

Mark Shelton — Superhero Mask Collector

(Joshua Klafter/WUFT News)
(Joshua Klafter/WUFT News)

Mark Shelton said his mask collection stemmed from the bond he shares with his son.

“I’ve liked superheroes since I was a little kid, but now I’ve got an 8-year-old son,” he said. “When I started getting costumes for him for Halloween, he liked them so much [that] he wanted them for Christmas.”

Holiday gifts for his son sparked their regular mask-collecting excursions, Shelton said.

Shelton’s collection not only allows him and his son to become their favorite superheroes but other characters, too.

“So far the number one that the kids love is the Ash Ketchum over there,” he said, pointing to a plastic mask of a cartoon character from “Pokémon.”

(Joshua Klafter/WUFT News)
(Joshua Klafter/WUFT News)

Shelton said his son continues to inspire him to collect everyday.

“We both enjoy superheroes and going out and finding new masks,” he said. “This is what we like to do.”

Shelton’s son isn’t the only force driving his hobby, he said.

“I do it just to bring joy to people and watch the kids smile after they put them on.”

(Joshua Klafter/WUFT News)
(Joshua Klafter/WUFT News)

Miriam Elliott — The Beatles Memorabilia Collector

Self-proclaimed “Beatlemaniac” Miriam Elliott said she has been collecting merchandise from The Beatles  since she was a teenager.

“I would use my meager babysitting money,” Elliott said, laughing.

Her love for the band was ignited when she saw them play in Jacksonville in 1964 at the Gator Bowl.

“That’s been a thread throughout my entire life, it’s a big influence to who I am as a person,” she said. “The fact that I’m involved in peace and justice activism — a lot of that was the direction they led me in.”

Although Elliott said she has always loved buying The Beatles items, she didn’t realize she was a collector until she came to Collectors Day for the first time.

(Joshua Klafter/WUFT News)
(Joshua Klafter/WUFT News)

“One of the collectors said to me, ‘Do you collect anything?’ I said no, but then I thought for a minute. I said, ‘I do have a box full of Beatles stuff.’”

That conversation prompted her to organize and actively add to her collection, she said.

Elliott has now been presenting her passion project at Collectors Day for 33 years, making hers one of the longest running collections featured at the show.

While her collection is impressive, she said she doesn’t just come to Collectors Day to show off her assemblage.

“Among the collectors who know each other, year to year, we find things for each other and pass them on,” she said. “It’s a nice camaraderie.”

(Joshua Klafter/WUFT News)
(Joshua Klafter/WUFT News)

When asked about her favorite item in her collection, she pointed down to the necklace she was wearing that featured a discolored Beatles logo written atop a miniature brown book.

“The gold lettering has worn off because I used to wear this to school and handled it a lot,” she said.

Opening the book revealed it was an accordion filled with photos of the The Beatles’ faces.

“I was able to look at the lads between classes, because I got them right here close to my heart,” she said.

As she stood over a frame encasing her first Beatles concert ticket, Elliott said “People would describe collectors as being obsessive, or bordering on hoarding. But it’s really a passion. Each person here has a passion for whatever it is that they’re exhibiting.”

(Joshua Klafter/WUFT News)