Humans of Hebrew College Small Town Rabbi

By Wendy Linden
giulia fleishman

Growing up on the island of Martha’s Vineyard, fifth-year Hebrew College rabbinical student Giulia Fleishman (above, middle) discovered the power of a small, tight-knit Jewish community.

While there can be challenges when there is only “one game in town,” Giulia says the rewards are greater. “When you are part of a small Jewish community that forms when there is no other option, sure there can be bickering, but there is also this bond that forms as the community has to work through issues together and, ideally, come out on the other side. It can feel really rewarding.”

It is not surprising, then, that Giulia was drawn to her current internship at Congregation Betenu in rural Amherst, NH. The community is so small that High Holidays typically draw a large crowd of just 30 congregants. But that doesn’t deter Giulia. “It’s a lovely community. I love that small town feel,” she says. “I love knowing everyone’s names, backstories, quirks—and each person holds the space together and has their role. Honestly, if I don’t know all the members of the community, it just doesn’t feel as life-giving as I would like.”

giulia-fleishmanAll Hebrew College rabbinical students are expected to complete at least one supervised internship in the Greater Boston area and beyond as part of their rabbinical training, serving in synagogues of all denominations, Hillels, pastoral care settings, Jewish nonprofit organizations, and Jewish educational institutions. Many students serve multiple internships to increase their exposure to different leadership settings.

When Giulia started rabbinical school, she landed an internship with 2Life Communities, which provides Jewish housing for the elderly. “That internship was everything I wanted to do—work with seniors, do pastoral care, and lead services. It exposed me to little bits of everyone I cared about,” she said. She spent two years working at 2Life Communities, which culminated in a group b’nai mitzvah program that she created for seniors, many of whom were women who could not become bat mitzvah when they were teenagers. “I was so privileged to go back to 2Life this year to lead a short Rosh Hashanah service. It felt so sweet to be there.” 

Building on her experience working with seniors, Giulia is strengthening her chaplaincy skills by interning at Hebrew SeniorLife (also as part of her chaplaincy training program), a senior healthcare and living facility with multiple Boston-area locations. She served at the organization’s campuses in Dedham and Revere over the past year, and this fall is an intern at HSL’s Brookline location.

“Now that I’m deep into my pastoral care training and internship at Hebrew SeniorLife, it feels like a natural extension of my 2Life Communities work,” said Giulia. “I love working with a senior population—I really value this population that is often pushed out to the margins. There is so much deep wisdom in people who have lived through so much. Getting to learn from them while connecting them from my experience feels incredibly powerful.”

The two verses that come to mind about Giulia are “‘ פִּיהָ פָּתְחָה בְחָכְמָה וְתוֹרַת חֶסֶד עַל לְשׁוֹנָהּ—She speaks with wisdom, and kind instruction is on her tongue’ (Proverbs 31:26) as well as ‘דְּרָכֶיהָ דַרְכֵי נֹעַם וְכָל נְתִיבוֹתֶיהָ שָׁלוֹם – ‘Her ways are pleasant ways, and all her paths are peace’ (Proverbs 3:17),” said Rabbi Lior Nevo, Community Rabbi and Chaplain at Hebrew SeniorLife in Revere. “Giulia’s wisdom, together with her kindness and sensitivity, drew more and more residents to her—as she taught classes, led services and connected with people in one-on-one visits. It was particularly touching to see how Giulia took upon herself to give extra attention to the residents who tend to sometimes be more challenging for other staff members to connect with. We already miss having her here, and are confident that she will enrich the lives and touch the souls of people in any community she chooses to be part of in the future.”

Giulia hopes that the future involves continuing to work with seniors. “All of my internships have deepened my connection and commitment to working with the senior population,” she says. “And if I can also do chaplaincy work in a rural setting, that would combine everything I love!”

Ta-Shma adLearn more about where our students and alumni serve around the country and world and join us for Ta Sh’ma (Come & Hear) 2021/5782, our fall Open House for prospective rabbinical and cantorial students, on November 7 (virtual) and/or November 15 (in-person).

In October 2021, Giulia was named a Hadar Davening Fellow. In the 8-week fellowship, a select cohort of shelihei tzibbur (prayer leaders) from around the country and beyond convene weekly on Zoom with Deborah Sacks Mintz and guest faculty members from Hadar to build out their toolkits of leadership skills.

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