Florida Community Relations Leaders Unite to Combat Hate

Last August, Tampa JCCs & Federation launched the Coalition of Florida Jewish Community Relations Councils or CFJCRCs, a regional coalition of community relations professionals and lay leaders across Florida to share resources to combat antisemitism and advocate for Israel in their local communities.  

This new model of a regional voice has proven effective in addressing critical issues that the Jewish community across Florida has faced since October 7. The University of Southern Florida in Tampa has been a hotbed of anti-Jewish hate and anti-Israel rhetoric over the past few months. Student protestors have chanted slogans that condone violence and that make Jewish students feel unsafe.  In early May, nearly 300 pro-Palestinian protestors marched towards the campus, screaming both anti-American and anti-Israel hate speech. 

The coalition urged USF President Rhea Law and others in her administration to do more to protect Jewish students and to ensure that the university is promoting an inclusive environment. After representatives of the coalition alerted Attorney General Ashley Moody about the intimidation of Jewish students at USF and other universities, the Attorney General issued a strongly worded letter that reminded USF of its obligations under Title VI and of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and demanded that USF take a more forceful and public position against antisemitic behavior on its campus. 

Earlier this month, coalition leaders Julie Wright Halbert with Jewish Federation of Sarasota-Manatee and Jonathon Ellis with Tampa JCCs & Federation alerted USF's administration of a planned encampment. Law enforcement responded swiftly by preventing protestors from blocking buildings and from setting up the encampment. 

The regional coalition has also engaged President Law in other ways. At the request of the coalition, she viewed the 42-minute video of the Hamas atrocities on October 7 and has attended several events sponsored by the Jewish community.  The university has agreed to cover the cost of 24/7 police protection at the campus Hillel and university leadership has met with Jewish students and campus professionals.

Co-Chair of the CFJCRCs Jonathan Ellis said, "When we tossed around the idea of a ‘regional JCRC,’ we had no idea what was about to happen on October 7th. The timing was remarkably fortunate, and we showed the value of the Coalition of Florida JCRCs (CFJCRCs) in a short time. The leadership from the other Federations and JCRCs who have chosen to be a part of this initiative have been incredibly supportive and active in the processes. This is just the tip of the iceberg, as I expect more great things going forward!"

Executive Director for Combatting Antisemitism at Tampa JCC & Federation Mark Segel lauded the coalition and its effective work in providing a strong, collective voice to represent the needs of the Jewish community across Florida. He added, “The efforts at USF were fruitful because we came together as a unified voice representing a large part of Florida state and we built the trust of the university leadership.  I foresee this regional coalition being a model for other Federation communities around North America.” 

The regional coalition also plans to advance a chaplaincy program at public schools statewide, work with local media outlets to communicate the Israeli narrative, and craft a program for regional attorneys to strengthen their knowledge of antisemitism, hate crimes, and the law.

In addition to Tampa, the communities represented in the regional coalition are Jewish Federation of Florida's Gulf Coast, Jewish Federation & Foundation of Northeast Florida, Jewish Federation of Lee & Charlotte Counties, Jewish Federations of Greater Naples, Jewish Federation of Sarasota-Manatee, and Shalom Orlando.