I first met Rabbi Giulia Fleishman years ago when I was working at the West Tisbury library. She exudes the word “kindness” from the moment you meet her. Giulia is still involved with the M.V. Hebrew Center, although she was ordained a rabbi herself this past May after five years of study. During that time, she interned at what is now called 2Life Communities, a nonprofit that helps elders “age in community.” I remember talking to Giulia when she was working there, and she loved it, and now she’s been named director of spiritual care for 2Life Communities.
I received a press release from the organization announcing her new role, and I was happy to call her and touch base as she begins this new phase in her life. The release tells me that Giulia is an Island native with extensive experience in “spiritual care, healthcare, and mental health services.” She earned a bachelor’s of fine art from New York University, and studied at the Pardes Institute of Jewish studies in Jerusalem. One of the programs she headed up at 2Life Communities as an intern was an adult b’nei mitzvah class of more than 20 seniors, from 70 to almost 100 years old. The class ended in a ceremony with more than 600 people in attendance. I’d say that was a success. We caught up in a phone conversation last week, and she told me she felt very fortunate to be able to stay at a place she enjoyed so much.
“My second year I was helping to lead a Passover Seder event with residents who were speaking about their own journeys, and Amy Schectman [president and CEO] asked me, ‘What would your ideal job look like?’” Giulia said. “Well, I thought about it and said, ‘Basically this. I love working here.’” Schectman told her to remind her when she was graduating, and they’d work on raising the funds to hire her. It all worked out, and now Giulia is the first person to hold the position at 2Life Communities.
The organization runs six communities throughout the Boston area, with headquarters in Brighton, where she’ll have an office. Giulia will spend time visiting each site every week.
“My role is to support all the residents and staff, Jewish or otherwise, in education, spiritual care, programming … I have been trained as a rabbi, but I also have completed training as an interfaith chaplain, so I have experience in nonreligious and nondenominational settings,” Giulia explained. “This role is providing space for anyone to age in community, regardless of spiritual or religious beliefs.”
Some of the programming she hopes to get started includes a poetry group, lunch and learn sessions, and creative art programs, and Giulia said she’s had a request from staff to lead a Judaism 101 class so they can better understand the population they’re working with. In the spirit of inclusion, Giulia is interested in learning more about the residents she encounters who are Chinese immigrants, or natives of Russia or other countries. She thrives on diversity.
Giulia told me about a metaphor she loves that says there’s a place where the forest and the meadow meet, and there’s greater diversity in that spot than there is either in the meadow or the forest alone.
“That’s part of why I was excited about this job, working with a community that is beyond the Jewish community,” she said. “There are Chinese immigrants, the Russian community, and that’s the kind of diversity that feels very life-giving for me.”
Giulia explained that she had just gone on a field trip with residents to Spectacle Island, one of the islands in Boston Harbor. “It was a wonderful day,” she said; “there was a resident from Armenia and an aide from the Dominican Republic, and they were sharing their life experiences. It just felt so connected in that exchange because of that diversity.” In fact, she’d like to hone her language skills so that she can better communicate with all residents.
Giulia said she’d likely spend her first year listening and learning, and then in year two she will reflect on where there is room for growth and opportunity. She has a vision about how spiritual care can be integrated into the organization.
“I will say, in addition to the work itself, one thing that makes me excited is the people who work there, and the organization, and how they care about the staff,” she said. “It feels notable to me that 2Life really values its staff as full humans who have their own needs — spiritually and mentally. They value the wholeness of each person.”
It sounds like Guilia has found the best option as she enters this phase of her life. I asked her what spiritual care means for her.
“The way I approach spiritual care is how to tap into each individual’s own meaning, sense of meaning in the world, and how each of us creates meaning … spiritual care within their own framework. I’d like to help others draw out what’s already inside of them.”
I know you’ll join me in congratulating Giulia on her new position when you see her visiting home here on the Island.
I heard from Jason Eldredge, who works at the public information desk for the Jehovah’s Witnesses over on the Cape. He wanted to share the news that the Martha’s Vineyard congregation of Jehovah’s Witnesses will return to their door-to-door ministry at the end of this week. “For the past 30 months it was suspended, and replaced with letters and phone calls. The Witnesses on the Island are excited to talk with the community face-to-face again to share an encouraging scripture,” Jason wrote.
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