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Fleet of walkers and wheelchairs blessed in interfaith Brookline ceremony

Rabbi Giulia Fleishman (standing) blesses the wheelchair and legs of Zoya Burshteyn Thursday afternoon in Brookline.Lane Turner/Globe Staff

Aided by canes, walkers and other devices that help them get around, people gathered on the lawn of the Brookline Historical Association Thursday afternoon for a most unusual blessing.

Hebrew SeniorLife, 2Life Communities, and First Parish in Brookline joined together to host “A Blessing of the F(l)eet!: An Interfaith Celebration of How We Move,” honoring seniors who travel with wheelchairs, scooters, canes, walkers and feet

The event drew just over two dozen people, most of them senior citizens of Brookline’s Danesh Residences, all coming to have clergy bless their mobility aids, said Rabbi Giulia Fleishman, one of the organizers.

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A “Blessing of the F(l)eet” ceremony in Coolidge Corner saw seniors have their mobility - canes, walkers, wheelchairs, and even just legs - blessed by three three local groups. 2Life Communities, Hebrew SeniorLife, and First Parish in Brookline.Lane Turner/Globe Staff

Fleishman said the event’s lofty name, suggested by one of the residents, was playful, but rooted in a long tradition.

“In Europe, where they have smaller fishing villages, they would have this ceremony, the ‘Blessing of the Fleet,’” she said. “They would bless all the fishing vessels at the beginning of each fishing season so that they would have an abundant catch.”

Thursday’s ceremony, like those of European tradition, was supposed to mark a “sense of transformation,” said Fleishman.

“There’s something powerful about ritual,” she said. “Moments like that really help us all feel a sense of renewal, a sense of added meaning and hope.”

Laughing together, Jovina Ting (left) and Paul MacEachern , enjoy the “Blessing of the F(l)eet” ceremony in Coolidge Corner.Lane Turner/Globe Staff

“Sometimes people and their bodies change,” she continued. “If we have to use wheelchairs or walkers throughout our lives, that can sometimes feel like a burden. Especially for older adults, growing into them can be challenging. This is a chance to really recognize the gifts that these devices offer us — it really can awaken a new relationship with them.”

The organizers incorporated multiple traditions in the liturgy , said Fleishman, including Psalm 23.

However, the readings were modified to what Fleishman called an alternative reading: “The Lord is my accessibility ramp; I shall not be left at the stairs.”

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The ceremony was first held in July 2019 but had been suspended due to the pandemic, said Fleishman. She said she hoped to establish the blessing as an annual event going forward — and expand its reach beyond senior citizens.

“There’s room for growth,” she said. “It was really wonderful to see people walking by on the street and being curious... [For this event] we focused on the [Danesh] residents that we already know and work with, but multiple people told me that they or their relatives would love to come next year.”

Rabbi Jim Morgan entertained during Thursday's ceremony.Lane Turner/Globe Staff

Camilo Fonseca can be reached at camilo.fonseca@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @fonseca_esq.