By Cassy Fiano-Chesser

A year in Hawaii turned into 30 years in paradise. 

“I went there for what I thought was a year, and it ended up being a lifetime,” Judith Goldstein said. 

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Originally from New York, Goldstein found a huge adjustment from the busy, fast-paced environment there to island life — but she fell in love as soon as she arrived. 

“Greeted by the Mayor of Hilo, Kupuna (elders) embracing us with lei and song and signs welcoming us to Hilo, — well, I was spellbound, captivated and certainly knew my life would never be the same,” she said. “My first home was literally in a banana patch and it took off from there.” 

Goldstein worked first as a preschool director, and then the first director of the Hilo Adult Day Care Center for vulnerable elderly before transitioning into academia, working for 20 years at the University of Hawaii as the administrative director of the UH Hilo Conference Department and International Travel Programs.

“I was selected as one of Hawaii’s Top Ten Business Women, Minority Advocate for Hawai’i Island, an Athena Recipient, president of the Hawaii Island Chamber of Commerce and Hospice of Hawaii,” she said. “Our thriving, innovative university travel programs won state and national acclaim for minority programming and cultural authenticity and I was beaming all the time.” 

Her work even went into outer space. “I was privileged to direct many scientific conferences, work with NASA scientists and in 2017 – 18 directed the International Moon Base Summit back on the Island of Hawaii,” she said. “The photo of all our Summit attendees was sent up on the last shuttle mission and now resides on the International Space Station.”

Her husband, Michael, meanwhile, was a major grower of Hawaiian tropical flowers, and supplied the Hawaiian flowers to Disney. Through his work, he traveled to Florida frequently, and participated in many trade shows in the state. He fell in love with the First Coast area and, as Goldstein said, was “ready,” thinking it would be a great place to retire.

“To say the least, the move to Jacksonville was more than a cultural shock! It was like I had been in a time warp for four decades,” she said. “Everything was different. The environment, the people, the shopping, the Southern drawl, the time zone and the extraordinary number of choices, options and decisions you could make, even when you wanted to buy just a loaf of bread. It was a deliriously, overwhelming adjustment.” 

It was difficult to let go of her aloha lifestyle at first. “I was still holding on tight to my Hilo and university roots, and was unsure how to make the transition to this new and strange land,” she said. “I stayed with my university position for a few more years after arriving in St. Johns.” 

Ultimately, though, the time difference made it too difficult, and leaving that position led her to discover a new love: a love of art.

“I stopped looking in the past and allowed myself to make wonderful friends and to begin a new direction which has now led me to an ‘Art Awakening,’” she said. “Discovering a love of art — drawing, painting with watercolor pencils, paint and finding an entire group of people who share my interests and journey. We mentor each other, affirm each other and continue to finesse are art and skills. My work is now on exhibit at CC Framing & Gallery, the Cummer Museum Shop, and the Wine Bar in Jacksonville Beach.  And, the remarkable thing is that I’ve never drawn before. I don’t question where this gift has come from, but it’s much more than an ‘Art Awakening.’ It’s the beginning of new friendships, family, experiences and unparalleled joy.”

And while moving to Jacksonville meant leaving her comfort zone, and the Hawaiian paradise she had grown to love, Goldstein found much to love about the First Coast, too, and learned a little bit more about herself as well.

“Who knew?” she said. “Moving to St. Johns allowed me to risk, to move out of my comfort zone, to believe that lasting, loving friendships can be found at any stage of life and that if you challenge yourself and are open to new discoveries, that ‘yellow brick road’ might just lead you to exactly where you want to be.”


Photo courtesy Judith Goldman

Judith Goldman

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