Joyce Reilly was born in New York City, always intrigued by the variety of languages and cultures, and always aware of the tragedy of the Holocaust and what it meant to many of my neighbors. After studying psychology at Drew and Waldorf Education in Europe and the US, Joyce started a therapeutic community in Pennsylvania and did training in psychotherapy. After returning to New Jersey for family reasons, Joyce discovered The Drew University Center for Holocaust/ Genocide Study on a local bulletin board and decided to attend programs and eventually become a volunteer. Now, ten years later, Joyce is completing a master’s degree in Conflict Transformation and is very involved in the Darfur Coalition of New Jersey on behalf of the Center. Currently working to resettle Darfurian refugees with JVS and HIAS, the Center has been a most meaningful and enlivening part of her life!
When Center Associate Joyce Reilly was twelve years old, she had a dream. Not the kind of dream you have when you are asleep but the kind of dream from which a lifelong mission and way-of-being emerges. Joyce’s dream was to create a community where all people would feel included, where injured or disabled people could heal, and where creativity, spiritual growth, and emotional wholeness would be nurtured. Now, more than thirty years later, Joyce continues to work at making this dream a reality through her varied activities as educator, therapist, peace-maker, and volunteer at our Center for Holocaust/Genocide Study. She is also a graduate student at Drew, working toward a doctorate and concentrating in Holocaust/Genocide Study. Incredibly, she finds time to fulfill a host of other commitments as well, all of them involved with helping and healing.
Born in Brooklyn to parents of Irish descent, Joyce learned early that she liked listening to people’s stories. Her parents, both of whom came from unstable family backgrounds-due to poverty and ill health-told her many stories of their respective families’ difficulties. Ironically, the neighborhood in Brooklyn where she grew up was heavily Jewish and many neighbors were Holocaust survivors. It was through her parents’ recounting of these neighbors’ stories that Joyce’s compassion for victims of persecution and oppressive social conditions developed further. As Joyce recalls, her parents could barely face the facts of the Holocaust or absorb the dismal truth that civilized people had failed to protect their fellow citizens. Although not directly affected, hearing about their neighbors’ experiences left her parents feeling vulnerable, unsupported, and aware that “the tide could turn” at any moment. Joyce further recalls her mother’s obsession with trying to figure out why such a horrible thing as the Holocaust could have occurred–and that her mother, although not Jewish herself, became so outspoken and fervent in her questioning that she eventually became a victim of anti-Semitism. It was from these experiences that Joyce Reilly’s dream of creating caring communities emerged. A central question began to surface: How do you make people sufficiently aware so that they won’t “sleep through the next genocide?” Not surprisingly, Joyce developed an interest in psychology and humanistic education.
She began her college study of psychology at Drew University in 1970. Through a chance meeting with another student during her first year, she learned of a job at Gould Farm in Great Barrington, Massachusetts, which is similar to the Camphill Communities in that it is a community serving people with mental illness (described below). Upon graduation from Drew in 1974, Joyce began eight years of work with residential communities serving mentally and emotionally challenged individuals: in Great Britain (through the Camphill Communities); in Germany (at the Frederich Husemann Klinik, an Alternative Psychiatric Hospital in Freiburg); and in the United States (at the Country Place in Litchfield, Connecticut where she served as Special Unit Director).
During this period of time, Joyce also pursued training at the Waldorf Institute of Mercy College (now Sunbridge College) in Detroit, Michigan where she ultimately also served as part-time faculty. Founded in 1919 by Rudolf Steiner for workers at the Waldorf Astoria Cigarette Company in Stuttgart, Germany, the Waldorf School Movement is now the second largest private, alternative school system in the world. Based on the philosophy articulated by Rudolf Steiner that “spiritual life embraces everything which lifts us out of our solitary egoism and draws us into community with other human beings,” the key concept in Waldorf education is creating community based on social, cultural, and political renewal. The Camphill Communities, where Joyce first worked, were founded by Dr. Karl Koenig, son of a long line of rabbis, who was inspired by Steiner’s ideas and who escaped Nazi persecution by fleeing to Scotland in 1939 to establish a “different kind of therapeutic community [one based] on a belief in the unique value of every human life and the ability of every human being to learn to listen, to develop trust, confidence, and love, and to live together for the common good.” One can certainly recognize Joyce’s dream in these words as well as the subtle ways in which the shadow of the Holocaust continued to shape her direction in life.
In 1982, Joyce moved to Kimberton, Pennsylvania, where she founded Gheel House, a therapeutic community for the mentally and emotionally challenged, also inspired by the philosophy of Rudolf Steiner. Further inspiration came from the town of Geel, Belgium, whose townspeople, as an informational brochure from Gheel House points out, “have for seven hundred years cared for and accepted the emotionally and mentally handicapped into their homes as valued family and community members.” Joyce directed and lived in this community until 1991, subsequently serving as admissions director for the Kimberton Waldorf School until 1993. In her “spare time” Joyce underwent psychotherapy training at the Psychosynthesis Institute of Pennsylvania in the neighboring community of Paoli. She also served as social worker for Intervention Associates in Berwyn, Pennsylvania.
During her tenure at Gheel House, the specter of the Holocaust once again impacted Joyce’s life when Georg Kuhlewind, a Hungarian Holocaust survivor, presented a workshop for the staff of Gheel House. This encounter with Kuhlewind, a widely published writer, philosopher, and lecturer in Europe, evolved into a working life-partnership with him and the eventual co-development of the Logos Foundation, a foundation for young children endangered by war, poverty, and their effects on modern life. Co-situated in Chatham, New Jersey and Budapest, Hungary, Joyce continues to serve as the Foundation’s Executive Director: her responsibilities include designing and implementing training programs for parents and caregivers. She also organizes conferences and lecture tours dealing with the activities of the Foundation. In concert with this, Joyce has taken on several board memberships, notably the House of Peace in Ipswich, Massachusetts. The House of Peace, founded in 1990 by John and Carrie Schuchardt, Joyce’s friends from the Camphill Community, employs at their facility persons with disabilities and also serves individuals who are refugees from war-torn nations around the world. Still another organization that is proud to have Joyce as a board member is the Actor’s Ensemble, a theater group based in New York City and Spencertown, New York whose works focus on Holocaust and Holocaust-related themes.
Joyce is currently working on a certificate in peacebuilding at the School for International Training in Brattleboro, Vermont through its program on Conflict Transformation Across Cultures (CONTACT). It is through this program that Joyce recently journeyed to Bosnia to meet with victims of the “ethnic cleansing” that scarred that land more than a decade ago. Similarly, it is through this program that she has met uniquely remarkable people such as Joseph Seberenzi, former speaker of the House of Parliament in Rwanda, a survivor of that genocide, and a conflict transformation specialist. A number of us were fortunate to hear him speak last May when he participated in the Center’s series of “Conversations with Witnesses.”
Joyce Reilly has said that she has always known about the Holocaust. Indeed, as her life story attests, Joyce’s very life has been shaped by shadows of the Holocaust. Her most recent involvement grows out of her association with the Center for Holocaust/Genocide Study. In 1993, she moved to Chatham, New Jersey to care for her aging parents. On one of her shopping trips to King’s market in their behalf, she was–not surprisingly–drawn to a poster announcing a conference about the Holocaust to be held at Drew University and sponsored by the Center for Holocaust/Genocide Study. So it was that Joyce found the Center and the Center found her; clearly it was a match meant to beÑin other words, beshert.
A member of our Board of Associates since 2001, Joyce has brought her calming presence and special understanding of community to our group, along with her many gifts of wisdom, grace, compassion, spiritual harmony, and deep respect for all humanity. At the Center, we are deeply blessed to be advised by someone who “lives and works among those who create peace” and who joins us in working toward tikkun olam (repair of the world) in a post-Holocaust world still riddled with genocide and human rights abuses. Indeed, we are forever grateful that Joyce Reilly and the Center have joined in the common cause of repairing the world.
Joyce is an invaluable member of our team and we thank her from the bottom of our hearts for her many, many contributions.
Note: Several quotations in this piece are drawn from “An Emerging Culture: Rudolf Steiner’s Continuing Impact in the World” by Christopher Bamford and Erice Utne, a special publication of the Rudolf Steiner Foundation and “Utne Magazine” (pp. 24 and 26)