Sometimes people will tell Rosie Wohl that she shouldn’t do so much, but she doesn’t know how to not give back to the people in her community.

“It’s a Jewish thing,” she says with a smile. “Gestures of thoughtfulness are so easy, yet we forget that sometimes.”

For Wohl, giving back to the community is ingrained in who she is, a testament to her faith and the connections she makes with other members of Maine’s Jewish community. The Portland resident is the Jewish chaplain at Maine Medical Center, the first female president of the Portland Chevra Kadisha (also known as the Jewish Funeral Home) and co-chair of the Caring Committee at Congregation Bet Ha’am in South Portland.

“I feel it’s really important to be involved in the community because it is a community,” Wohl said. “It’s about being there for each other.”

Wohl, 66, began her role as Jewish chaplain in 2004. Rabbis aren’t able to meet with Jewish patients on the Sabbath, so the hospital would call her. She later took a clinical pastoral course and is now officially recognized as a chaplain. She visits with Jewish patients at the hospital and local nursing homes, often bringing comfort shawls to sick patients.

“I give them the shawl with a little prayer. I have people who say ‘I know that shawl is why I got healed,’ ” she said.


Sometimes Wohl knows the patients she visits, but others are strangers, and they connect over their shared experiences. “There are certain things you don’t have to explain. People find that comforting and reassuring,” she said. “It’s such a privilege and an honor when people let you into the room. It’s more of a human connection than a spiritual or religious connection.”

Wohl often finds herself in the position to give comfort to others during their most difficult moments. At the nonprofit Portland Chevra Kadisha, she prepares bodies for burial according to Jewish tradition. She considers it a great honor to be involved in the sacred rituals.

At Congregation Bet Ha’am, Wohl co-chairs the Caring Committee with Karen Silverman and Patti Sands, whose dedication Wohl is quick to point out. Other members of the committee are equally passionate, she said. Together, they help families who have just lost a loved one through shiva, the week-long mourning period. They help with everything from arranging prayer services to making sure there is food to eat.

“We’ll take care of all the details so they can focus on the grief and hopefully the steps toward healing,” Wohl said. “For me, it’s really the essence of community, taking care of each other.”

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