Student’s memory lives on aboard boat, the first owned by a college Hillel
Date Posted: January 31, 2017
Source: The Jewish Press

Eckerd College in St. Petersburg has become the first Hillel to own a boat.

Members of the Hillel of the Florida Suncoast’s Scubi Jew diving club set sail for the first time on their newly acquired boat Ally’s Way in October and since then it has been busy ferrying divers to nearby reefs to clean up trash and debris.

The boat was named after Allison Willen, a junior at Eckerd College and a member of the Scubi Jew group. Willen died in 2015 in a hiking accident while studying at Otago University in New Zealand as part of an International Studies program.

The purchase of the boat was made possible by a donation from Willen’s parents, Todd and Michelle Willen of Bath, OH.

“It is because of them that the Eckerd Hillel is now the only Hillel in the world to own a boat,” said Rabbi Ed Rosenthal, executive director of Hillel locally and a scuba enthusiast.

 Allison Willen (inset) for whom the boat was named, died in a hiking accident in New Zealand. Aboard “Ally’s Way” on a recent dive trip, L-R: Josh Gribens, Sylvie Feinsmith (USF Hillel Program Director) and Zac Oppenheim (assistant director, Eckerd College Waterfront Program and boat captain). In the water is Sam Cooke. The 34-foot SeaRay Sportfish provides great savings over the expense of chartering a boat for environmental dives, he said.

“Ally was a tremendous environmentalist,” said Rabbi Rosenthal. “I have been working with Hillel for 18 years. She is easily one of the best, one of the most amazing people I have ever met.” He added that Ally “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.”

The Scubi Jew diving club, open to all students, is one of the most popular groups on the Eckerd campus, located on Boca Ciega Bay at the southern tip of St. Petersburg.

Scubi Jew members use Ally’s Way to honor their twice-a-month commitment to clean up area waterways. Currently, the group is clearing trash from the Glen Lockwood and Bahia Beach reefs in Hillsborough County.

“They removed three anchors, about 100 feet of rope, a huge amount of monofilament fishing line and about 10 feet of chain,” Rosenthal told the Jewish Press. “The rope and fishing line are major entanglement hazards for dolphins and sea turtles. The fishing line is just evil for anything underwater.”

Conditions for the cleanup has been difficult since there is very little to no visibility in Tampa Bay and both reefs are artificial, meaning divers must work around the large construction materials used to make the reef.

To celebrate Ally’s Way’s maiden voyage in October, Rabbi Rosenthal conducted a modified version of a Zeved Ha Bat – naming ceremony for a newborn girl – renaming it “Zeved HaBoat.”

A mezuzah hanging ceremony was also held aboard the boat. Rabbi Rosenthal said he chose the mezuzah, three silver dolphins leaping out of the water into a sky-blue background, to represent the connection Ally had with the water.

And, as one more constant reminder, the boat’s name is written in Ally’s handwriting.


To find out more about the Scubi Jew group, call (813) 765-6364.

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