ASHDOD: City, Federation & USF plan mission to Sister City
A group from Tampa will bring gifts and goodwill when they travel to Ashdod, Israel, – one of Tampa’s Sister Cities – in November. While there, and when visiting other Israeli cities, the local delegation hopes to develop ties with innovative companies that could help turn Tampa into a center for hightech companies in the medical industry.
What began as an effort by leaders of the Tampa Jewish Federation to aid the city of Ashdod with funds for several worthy causes has blossomed into a multi-purpose mission that will take place Nov. 16-22.
Participants will include a delegation of Federation leaders, Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn and two other city officials, and a limited number of other local residents who can join the mission on a first-come, first-served basis. It will be a Sister Cities mission, an economic development mission, and a mission to show solidarity between the members of Tampa Jewish community and Israel.
Officials organizing the mission hope to get it off to an inspiring start the night before the delegations leave for Israel.
For the second year in a row the Jewish Federation of Pinellas & Pasco Counties will join with the Tampa Federation for a gala kickoff of their annual fundraising campaign. The theme of the kick-off event is “Start Up Nation,” coming from the book Start Up Nation: The Story of Israel’s Economic Miracle by Dan Senor and Saul Singer. The book, which was on the New York Times bestseller list, shows how Israel became a world center for entrepreneurship, and start-up, high-tech companies.
Guest speaker Senor “will talk about the incredible business technologies and innovations to come out of Israel,” said Mark Segel, external relations director for the Tampa Jewish Community Center & Federation.
Buckhorn will attend the kick-off ceremonies and said he is excited about the mission.
“Israel is a hotbed for high-tech companies. What they have done is amazing, and we hope to build relationships with some of those companies,” Buckhorn said. The idea is to encourage those companies to invest in projects in Tampa, or to establish branches here, starting with a project the University of South Florida is developing, he said.
The potential benefits of the mission are great. “This could be a game changer for the city (Tampa) and for USF,” said Dr. Deborah Sutherland, a member of the USF delegation.
The USF delegation
USF already has a partnership with Simbionix, a company in Tel Aviv, a short distance north of Ashdod, to develop a laparoscopic hysterectomy simulator for the USF Health Center for Advanced Medical Learning and Simulation (CAMLS), now under construction in downtown Tampa. At the center, surgeons and USF medical students will train on highly sensitive machines that simulate operating conditions, said Sutherland, who is CEO for CAMLS. “The whole purpose is to get away from using animals and cadavers [to learn surgical procedures],” she said.
Two of the center’s physicians, Dr. Stuart Hart and Dr. Larry Glazerman, just returned from a visit to Simbionix to work on the content and sequencing of the hysterectomy simulation operation – expected to be the first of its kind on the market.
The trip in November will complete that project, Sutherland said.
The USF delegation to Israel will include Sutherland, Hart, Glazerman and Dr. Stephen Klasko, dean of the USF College of Medicine.
The USF delegation will also meet with another CAMLS partner – the Phillips Corporation in Haifa. The company is a partner for imaging, CT scanning and fluoroscopy – technology valuable to the CAMLS project.
When CAMLS opens in January, it is expected to boost Tampa’s economy. Up to 60,000 health care professionals a year are projected to come to the center to train on the simulators. Buckhorn is optimistic that the CAMLS center will draw a cluster of other high tech companies. He says the trip to Israel “is the starting point for this.”he said.
Sutherland agrees and says a research park at the USF campus and sites in Tampa Heights have been identified as potential locations for new companies.
How the mission began
The mission to Israel had humble beginnings, totally separate from the USF initiative.
“A number of months back, … we (Tampa Jewish Federation) decided to make a significant gift to Ashdod. Approximately $108,000 will be given to the city for three purposes – a bomb shelter to help seniors living in Ashdod, a physicians’ intake center to help physicians moving to Israel to get certified and squared away, and a smaller amount for holiday gift baskets for the residents of Ashdod,” said Segel.
“Then there was the idea to go to Ashdod to present the gift personally and then we met with Mayor Buckhorn and asked him to present the gift, since Ashdod is Tampa’s Sister City,” Segel said. The mayor agreed and the trip quickly became an economic development mission that will include the USF delegation.
Jack Ross, a Federation vice president who helped get Ashdod designated as a Sister City, is spearheading the mission. He explained that part of the Federation’s gift will go toward revamping a bomb shelter for citizens in a large nursing home in Ashdod. That need became more urgent in August when Hamas again launched dozens of rockets at cities in southern Israel, including two that hit the courtyard of a yeshiva in Ashdod, seriously injuring one person and injuring four others.
Ross noted that the attack prompted a joint letter from Buckhorn, the Federation and the Sister Cities Committee to Ashdod Mayor Dr. Yehiel Lasri to express support for Ashdod and the state of Israel and to mourn the deaths of those killed in nearby communities in coordinated terror attacks by Hamas.
On Nov. 20 all facets of the Tampa delegation will join together for the check presentation in Ashdod. They will lunch with Ashdod’s mayor and to visit different areas around the city, Ross said. This will include a visit to ELTA, a company that helped create a radar component for the Iron Dome antimissile system that serves to protect Israel from rocket attacks. The system was co-developed by the United States and Israel.
Buckhorn will be with the USF group when it visits Simbionix and Phillips and he will tour Ashdod’s water and waste management and port facilities. The mayor will also visit an electric car plant and learn how cities in Israel are establishing an infrastructure to serve electric cars. Two Jewish city officials, Tampa City Attorney Jim Shimberg and City Councilman Harry Cohen will travel with Buckhorn.
Mission participants will also visit Israeli political and military leaders and a variety of historical sites.
Buckhorn says he is very proud of the local Jewish community for their gifts to Ashdod. “That speaks volumes about the Tampa Jewish community and their strong bond with Israel and their willingness to help a Sister City.”
The mission (not including the USF group) will be limited to 24 people. Those interested in joining the delegation should contact Segel at (813) 769-2805.