of Marco Island has been cruising the ocean blue as a Jewish chaplain aboard cruise ships for the past nine years.
, 69, started her
second career nine years ago when she
was asked to take a cruise over Passover and be a substitute cantor for the seder.
The former teacher and principal of an afterschool Hebrew school began leading services when she
husband, Arthur, lived in New Jersey.The couple moved to Marco full-time 16 years ago; Arthur died seven years ago.
"Arthur was excited about it," Wilfond
says of her
new career.One month after her
husband died, Wilfond
got a call asking her
to lead services on a cruise, but "I couldn't do it at that time."
The cruise line didn't give up, and Wilfond
went to Alaska with her
aunt, one of her
traveling companions. (Wilfond and a guest receive complimentary cruises for her
says the first thing she
did upon arriving in Alaska was buy a hat, scarf and gloves.The frosty weather was a drastic change from the Florida warmth she'd left behind. She
thumbs through photo albums, each marked with dates and the name of a cruise ship.Wilfond works with Celebrity now, but in the past she worked on the now-defunct Majesty and Commodore lines. She
took two cruises in April and will take two more in the fall, traveling to Europe.
Each album tells a different story.When Wilfond
catches a glimpse of a picture, she
talks about the places or people she
met many people and touched many lives, Jewish and otherwise. She
talks about three non-Jewish girls she
met aboard a South American cruise.The girls had spent time in the Peace Corps
, and Wilfond
adopted them for the duration of the cruise."They've done so much.They're wonderful girls," she
Both Jews and non-Jews attend Wilfond's
services.Once, a honeymooning couple on a cruise to Hawaii asked her
whether they could attend one of her
services."Of course," she
told them."It's for all people."
"Non-Jews get as much out of it as Jewish people.Sometimes, there even are more non-Jews," she
After another cruise, Wilfond
received as a gift a pastel portrait of herself, done by an 84-year-old female passenger who'd attended a Passover seder led by Wilfond
it was the nicest seder she'd ever been to.
The portrait hangs above her
china cabinet, seder plates surrounding it.The dining room, with the china cabinet and seder plates, is a meaningful, almost sacred part of Wilfond's home.
It's where she
Torah, a scroll of Hebrew Scriptures.The print is too small for Wilfond
to read, but she
schleps it with her
to help set the tone for her
There's also a shofar, or ram's horn, from Israel.Wilfond blows into it, hard, and it makes a faint sound."I don't have the lungs I used to," she
Passover bag of plagues, which Wilfond uses to help children and adults participate in the Passover story."I try to make my services very interesting and get people involved," she
says. She compares being a cantor to being an educator.
Even though her
services don't take place in a classroom, she's
still teaching others about Judaism.
It's common to have members of the clergy on cruises, and most people are happy the cruise lines offer services, she
Wilfond jokes that she
has a "captive congregation" aboard cruise ships ... and in correctional facilities.She's led services at the Hendry Correctional Institution in Immokalee, and it's something she's trying to get back to.
dining room wall hangs a plaque some Hendry inmates made for her
, thanking Wilfond
"I get to go places I never thought I'd go," she
says of her
loves meeting new people and just being around people. Something special has happened to Wilfond on every trip she's taken, she says, but she's never gotten seasick.
"I get to see things," Wilfond