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Hendry Correctional Institution
Naples Daily News: Eagle
Carolyn Wilfond of Marco Island has been cruising the ocean blue as a Jewish chaplain aboard cruise ships for the past nine years.Wilfond, 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 and her 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 eventually agreed.She went to Alaska with her aunt, one of her traveling companions. (Wilfond and a guest receive complimentary cruises for her services.) Wilfond 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 sees.She's 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 says wistfully. 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 says. 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.She told 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 keeps her 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 services. 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 says sheepishly. And her 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 says. 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. On her dining room wall hangs a plaque some Hendry inmates made for her, thanking Wilfond for her services. "I get to go places I never thought I'd go," she says of her work.She 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 says.