Jewish Archive to hold panel on religious diversity in Polk County


LAKELAND—The Temple Emanuel Archive and Florida Southern College are joining together to present “Our Jewish Communion: Religious Identity and Growing Up Jewish in Polk County” on Sunday, Feb. 21, from 2 to 3:30 p.m. at Florida Southern College’s Annie Pfeiffer Chapel. The panel presentation, which is free and open to the public, will examine the joys, struggles, and long-term effects of growing up Jewish in a predominantly Christian area.

Dr. Catherine Eskin, associate professor of English at Florida Southern College has organized the presentation as an opportunity to explore the way Judaism is perceived by those who do not practice it. The panel presentation grew out of her sabbatical research, which included conducting interviews with adults who grew up Jewish in Polk County.

The panel will include individuals who were interviewed for the project: Susan Eckert, who now lives in Sarasota, and Jeffrey A. Miller, the immediate past president of the Holocaust Memorial Resource and Education Center in Orlando. Also included is Rabbi Samuel April, who served Temple Emanuel from 1956-1958. A non-Jewish panelist, Dr. Waite W. Willis, Jr., will add his unique perspective as a Lakeland native and Christian religious leader. 

The moderator for the panel will be WUSF Tampa’s Robin Trohn Sussingham, a Lakeland native and member of Temple Emanuel. The respondent is Dr. Jack Kugelmass, director of the Center for Jewish Studies at the University of Florida.

Some funding for the project and presentation was provided by the Southern Jewish Historical Society and the Florida Humanities Council. For more information, please contact Dr. Eskin at 863-680-4345 or


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