There’s a very ‘Jewish’ feeling at Windsor Place

Senior Services

By Susie Davidson

Special to The Advocate

Activity Director Christine Chiasson celebrates on New Year’s Eve with one of Windsor Place’s Jewish residents.

Jewish seniors looking for an assisted-living residence north of Boston and close toInterstate 93may be in for a pleasant surprise.

Not only does Windsor Place of Wilmington offer a homey environment with a rich selection of customized service plans that cater to independent, active lifestyles and every stage of assisted living (including top-notch Alzheimer’s care), but there’s a surprising amount of Judaic tradition to be enjoyed there as well.

We are a nice alternative for someone who does not necessarily require an all-Jewish community, but is instead seeking a diverse population that is extremely welcoming to all faiths and philosophies,” said Activity Director Christine Chiasson.

But should residents be looking for Jewish-themed activities and cultural offerings, Chiasson said Windsor offers an added bonus. “As the activity director, I come with a background in culturally Jewish programming, having planned events for two Jewish retirement communities in Newton and Brookline,” she said.

This Seder plate was part of a slide presentation on Judaica at Windsor Place of Wilmington.

Chiasson was activity director and then executive director at Cabot Park Village in Newtonville for five years. Cabot was originally built and owned by Alan Solomont, the former ambassador to Spain and Andorrawho is currently dean of the Jonathan M. Tisch College of Citizenship and Public Service at Tufts University, and Jewish community activist Susan Bailis, with whom he cofounded the nursing home chain ADS Group.

Cabot Park was not ‘Jewish’ by design,” said Chiasson, “but the population became about 95 percent Jewish simply by referral and happy customer word-of-mouth.” While there, she was widely exposed to Jewish traditions and culture, and even studied Hebrew with famed Judaic instructor Hadassah Blocker. “I can now, proudly, do a Shabbat service in Hebrew,” Chiasson noted.

Following Cabot, Chiasson served as activities director at Center Communities ofBrookline. “I had the privilege of hearing the stories of several residents there who were Holocaust survivors and of being further entrenched in a vibrant Jewish community,” she recalled. “I bring everything I learned at both facilities to my work at Windsor Place, where I am acutely attuned to providing for our Jewish residents, as well as Jewish residents in the larger Wilmington area who sometimes come to our events that we open to the public.”

Chiasson said Windsor enjoys a small Jewish population (“probably the same percentage as the larger U.S.”). While she said the facility would not be for someone “who keeps kosher or is seeking a very observant, Orthodox or homogenous community, we are ideal for someone who wants a balance of retaining and celebrating their Jewish identity while living in a diverse population that values a rich mix of heritages.”

The entire Windsor population, she explained, is not huge, and so residents are able to really get to know one another. “Our residents come from a vast variety of backgrounds and find commonality in their acquired years of wisdom.” All residents are encouraged to remain close to and active in their original religious congregations outside the campus. “This approach keeps their long-established ties intact while opening them up to a new social circle within our building, truly blending the best of both worlds,” said Chiasson.

Windsor’s amenities include ample suites, which come with walk-in closets, large windows and 9-foot ceilings; meals served in the dining room (snacks are also included); the fact that the same local family has served the area for 20 years on the same campus; the 24-hour, trained staff; and the variety of entertainment and activities.

Jewish seniors will also enjoy Jewish-oriented musical, artistic and educational offerings. Those have included a three-month course in the history of Judaism taught by Jason Gianetti, who has a degree in Judaic Studies from Brandeis University, and a slide-lecture and exhibit of Judaica ceremonial art by precious-metal artist Frann Addison. “She is an artist who creates gorgeous menorahs, mezuzahs, Shabbat candles, Seder plates and more out of fine metals and glass,” said Chiasson. “Everyone in our audience loved hearing about the Miriam cups she makes that now give women more of a place in Jewish ceremonial pieces,” she added.

Chiasson has also organized a presentation and discussion of Rabbi Harold Kushner’s “Video with Values” taped lecture on faith in the face of injustice, as interpreted in the book of Job; and a series and discussion on Jewish composers in America.

Holiday socials are regularly held in celebration through the year as well,” said Chiasson. “These events are open to our entire population, and also serve to educate our non-Jewish residents who are curious and open to learning new customs,” she said. They have included a potato latke party and cooking demonstration by the center’s lead chef, a Chanukah menorah lighting with blessings in Hebrew and English, a Passover Seder, and a Rosh Hashanah celebration.

Chiasson said she has been enormously impressed by the support she has received while serving various Jewish populations, as well as the loyalty and connection they shared with one another. She added that her cultural and educational offerings have been greatly appreciated by a knowing audience. “As a whole, this population has elevated interests in all things intellectual and artistic, encompassing theater, dance and symphony,” she said.

Windsor’s Jewish residents aren’t always from the area. “We have several New Yorkers who have relocated to Massachusetts in order to be near their adult children in their elderly years,” said Chiasson. “This particular resident could feel like a fish out of water if care is not taken to keep them connected with their Jewish traditions and to have others, of varying backgrounds, appreciate them as well,” she said.

Indeed, each resident brings a unique contribution to the entire center. “What I adore about the vast majority of seniors I serve in assisted living is that they are fully aware of the preciousness of life,” said Chiasson. “Every day, as we end our exercise program, we actually raise our arms up in thanksgiving, each to his/her own G-d, for the gift of another day, and the gift of each other.” She said the residents love it, and she herself adds a little Judaic insight to the ritual. “I like to leave them with an inspiring quote for the day and often I use something I learned from the Talmud – my favorite being: “The highest form of wisdom is kindness.”

That, she said, also embodies the Windsor Place philosophy.

Windsor Place of Wilmington is located at 92 West St. in Wilmington. Visit www.windsorplaceofwilmington.com or call (978) 988-2300.

Copyright 2008-2014 The Jewish Advocate, All Rights Reserved