Finding Italians at the Jewish

Photos by Despina Ioanidis

by Marilena Lucci (IT)

In this city, wherever you find caring, compassion and a sense of community, you’re sure to find an Italian. And the Jewish General Hospital (JGH) is no exception. Having worked my way through university there myself, I can attest to the strong Italian community thriving within the hospital walls. “It takes many departments to run a hospital,” says John Marsala, nurse manager of the Cardiovascular Unit, Vascular Laboratory and Cardiovascular Prevention Centre. “I’m sure you will find at least one, if not several, Italians working in each department – we’re empathic by nature.”

John Marsala

Marsala is just one of the many Italians who has found their tribe working at the JGH. “Despite it being a big place, there is definitely a ‘village’ feel where you know just about everybody and have lots of people around you to count on, much like a typical Italian paesino,” says neurosurgeon Salvatore Di Maio. “There is a palpable feeling that no matter who you are and what role you have, when we walk inside we all have the same mindset: to take the greatest possible care of the patient.”

Melissa D’Adonna

So what is it about the JGH that has brought and kept so many Italians together? If you ask Sonia Boccardi, clinical manager and nursing practice consultant, she’ll tell you it’s the sense of family.

This is a recurring sentiment amongst the hospital’s Italian employees and one that often reveals the cultural closeness of the Italian and Jewish communities in Montreal. “I appreciate the values of the Jewish culture; they are very similar to my Italian values,” says Emanuela Rosa Ciarlelli, head nurse of the Orthopedic Surgery Clinic. “I see so many similarities between the Italian and Jewish community, especially their strong focus and devotion to their families and loved ones.”

Marsala, who’s worked at the JGH for 29 years, shared a touching example of the cultural richness he encounters regularly in his work “I once had as patients, a husband and wife, who were both admitted on my unit in the same semi-private room. They were married for 60 years, both Jewish, and they were both in the same concentration camp in Auschwitz. They would take turns taking care of each other during their hospitalization – always making sure the other was comfortable. Strangely, they told me they never met while in Auschwitz but fell in love and got married after the war ended. It was a remarkable story of survival, friendship and love. And they both spoke Italian more fluently than me!”

Marsala isn’t the only one with a story to tell. We polled some Italian employees about what made their workdays great at the JGH:

“I’m excited to come to work knowing I will make a difference in someone’s life.”

– Rita Di Girolamo, Nurse Manager Geriatric Medicine, NSA and Geriatric Clinic

“I love my strong black coffee and cheese danishes from Second Cup. It’s the JGH version of an Illy coffee and my fave Fiadone con Ricotta.”

– Cania Vincelli, Associate Director of Nursing, Surgical Services 

“There are a lot of Italians working at the JGH so, when we meet, we often speak Italian amongst ourselves and it gives a feel of little Italy.” 

– Bruno Pecora, Personal Care Attendant

“The safety and wellbeing of our patients is very important to us. The JGH takes prides in providing the best care possible to our patients just like la famiglia takes care of its own!”

– Claudia Cinquino, Nurse Care Counselor (NICU)

Claudia Cinquino