The Intersection of Faith and Conservation in Scubi Jew

Journalist: Josie Brett | Editor: Madelene Dailey 

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“There is a certain urge to protect and defend the environment around you when you’re down in the water,” says Colie Kuttnauer ’20, and Diveheart Coordinator, Photographer/Videographer, and Secretary. This is certainly true for the club known as EC Environmental Divers: Scubi Jew.

The oceans are important to all of us, and this notion is evident in the club’s mission. According club President, Josh Keller ’19, “Our mission is to help do our part in repairing the seas and teaching others to do the same.” Keller says this notion is very closely tied to the Jewish ideal of Tikkun Olam––repair the world––and by extension Tikkun Hayam––repair the sea––and is built into their club’s commitment to raising awareness and encouraging conservation.

Members of the club take an active role in this conservation. The Dive Against Debris program started up last year, and it has been met with great success. This program gives students the opportunity to go out on the Scubi Jew's boat, Ally’s Way, to care for their adopted reefs.  Once at the reefs, they pick up any debris they find on the surrounding reef, such as fishing line, consumer trash, and anchors.

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Another big accomplishment is the Diveheart program, where members receive 54 hours of training to assist disabled individuals who want to SCUBA dive. These individuals include para- and quadriplegics as well as those who are amputees, blind, or deaf.

“Being able to take an individual underwater and allow them to experience something they could not on their own is one of the most fulfilling and accomplishing moments in Scubi Jew's history,” Kuttnauer says.

As for the club’s beginnings, it was originally a part of Eckerd’s “Think Outside Spiritually” statement, according to Rabbi Ed Rosenthal, the club’s spiritual adviser.

“As the campus Rabbi, it was a way I could engage students through the intersection of Judaism and the marine environment,” Rosenthal says.

The idea came along seven years ago, but it was not intended to be a social club. Rather, Scubi Jew began as a service group based upon the Tikkun Olam principle, as both a way to learn about “spirituality of the sea” and a way to uphold the expectation in the Jewish community to participate in making the world a better place.

However, to most of the club’s members, the sea–and their connection to it–holds a special place in their lives, and this is achieved through SCUBA.

“As someone who grew up around and loves the sea, it’s a dream come true to breathe underwater,” Keller says. Keller also references his fascination with marine science as a key component that allows him to dive beneath the surface of the ocean and see the world below.  Because of his commitment to conservation, he believes the ocean is where he will be able to make the biggest difference in the world.

It is also quite mind-broadening, according to Kuttnauer. “Because of SCUBA, I have become more aware of myself, of the creatures that live on earth, and what I want my mission to be,” she says. “With SCUBA and Scubi Jew, I strive to be a protector of the sea, of the world, and I think that is one of the biggest messages we can give to each other in this club.”

The club has had many successes, and with the coming year, its members hope to accomplish many more. One goal is to expand the Dive Against Debris program to the entire Eckerd community, making it bigger than ever before. Another is the Diveheart program, which will hopefully be open to the entire Eckerd College community as well.

“We want to get awareness out for the environment, of which is mostly ocean anyways,” Keller says.

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In short, the club is optimistic. Reaching a large community is no easy task, but the members are confident that it can be done.

“When most people think about connecting with God in a ‘religious’ context they think they have to go to a synagogue, a church, a mosque or a temple,” Rosenthal says. “For me, the best way to connect with ‘God’ is in, under, or on the water. To me, ‘water spirituality’ transcends religious divisions and unites all creations.”

And while you do not have to be Jewish to be a part of the Scubi Jew Club, the fact remains that the principle of Tikkun Olam is applicable and relevant in all our lives. Taking care of our oceans, and the creatures that depend on it as an ecosystem and as their home, is the first step on the long road to the Earth’s recovery.