Heritage Florida Jewish News - Central Florida's Independent Jewish Voice

Memorial programming extends Pavilion's Elder Outreach


Jewish Pavilion  Program Director, Emily Newman, reminisces about times with Spring Hill's resident Charles "Dill Hurvitz" at his Memorial Service Program.

On Friday, May 27 the second floor social hall at Spring Hills Assisted Living in Lake Mary was packed wall-to-wall with more than 40 kippot-clad residents, caretakers, and family members, for a memorial service in tribute to late resident, Charles "Dill" Hurvitz, who passed away on Sunday, May 8, 2016. He was a resident at Spring Hills for eight years, and lived to age 98.

However, this was not Mr. Hurvitz's funeral. That service had already taken place graveside with a handful of mourners in his hometown of Boston, Mass. This Memorial Service Program, sponsored by the Jewish Pavilion, was developed and delivered by Pavilion volunteers, Terri Fine Stenzler and her husband, Paul Stenzler. This program was made possible in part by a grant from the Jewish Federation of Greater Orlando.

The couple, under the guidance of Jewish Pavilion Executive Director Nancy Ludin, worked together to extend the Pavilion's mission of bringing the Jewish community to the doorstep of elder-care residents. The Memorial Service Program enables elder-care residents, both Jewish and non-Jewish, to bring closure and foster community among residents who have lost a Jewish friend living among them. "Our elders in long term care are not well enough to travel to a Shiva or funeral. When someone dies in their building, they simply disappear, leaving friends and neighbors without an opportunity to say good-bye," commented Ludin. "The Memorial Service Program allows residents, volunteers and staff to celebrate their memory, share anecdotes about their relationship and grieve together. The closure is very helpful for everyone."

Spring Hills resident, Charles Curb, was Hurvitz's next door neighbor at the Seminole County senior living community for the past year and a half. He noted that Dill's memorial service had been the talk of the building for the past few days, as it was the first of its kind onsite. Curb reflected that he was going to miss Hurvitz's daily wake up calls, and though he wasn't Jewish, he was pleased to be part of the occasion. He shared, "We need to this kind of thing (onsite) more often for a series of complex reasons. Number one: the service helps us remember the person that was lost. Number two: the service helps us reflect on what that person's life meant to us."

Curb captured the intention that the Stenzlers had when they conducted their first memorial service program in 2013 when Elise Schilowitz's mother, Mrs. Esther Hoffeld, passed away while a resident at Lake Mary's Oakmonte Village. Fine Stenzler explained, "While Elise is a member of Temple Israel, the rabbi was on his summer vacation when her mother passed away. The synagogue leadership was looking for someone to lead the service, and I volunteered, as I was coordinating services at Temple Israel in the rabbi's absence. Elise's request was unusual in that she decided to host the service at Oakmonte, and not at her own home, which is the more typical practice."

Fine Stenzler realized that leading the service at Oakmonte was quite different than the other memorial services she had conducted before, and fulfilled an unmet need for elder-care residents, who are often frail and/or infirm. She explained, "The Schilowitz family's decision to bring the service to the continuing care community enabled Mrs. Hoffeld's friends to share their memories of their dear friend. Because residents normally lack transportation, or information about pending memorial services, they would have had no way to attend such a service had it been held off the Oakmonte campus. Yet Mrs. Hoffeld's friends had a lot to say about the person with whom they shared meals, memories, activities and time together. In hosting the service onsite, the Schilowitz's allowed Mrs. Hoffeld's friends to achieve closure together and to say their parting words and prayers, whether to the group or to themselves."

The Stenzlers led a second memorial service at Health Care Center of Windermere in July 2013, when Paul's mother, Roslyn, passed away. "The service was well attended by Jews and non-Jews, both residents and staff, all of whom shared a bond with Paul's mother," commented Fine Stenzler. "It also meant a lot for Paul to be there to thank Roslyn's friends and facility staff in person for all that they did for her, just like Elise and her husband did at Mrs. Hoffeld's service."

Following the positive response to these two services, the Stenzlers were inspired to create a Memorial Service Program with the Jewish Pavilion to fulfill the needs of elder-care residents. Fine Stenzler stated, "I appreciate the unique opportunity for conducting memorial services at continuing care facilities, and believe that they serve an important purpose for these communities. Specifically, Jewish law recognizes direct family members as mourners, yet residents at continuing care facilities form bonds and friendships in their later years that often go unacknowledged when they pass away because they cannot attend a Shiva minyan at the resident's children's home or synagogue, which may be local or out of the area. We also appreciate the need for the service to be accessible to non-Jews such that the prayers should be explained, provided in transliteration, and translated into English."

The Stenzlers relied on their experience conducting services as lay leaders in synagogues and in community settings when developing the Memorial Service Program. The couple has years of experience working with the elder-care community, and has led the second night Passover Seder at Brookdale Senior Living/Chambrel for the last four years, along with a variety of programs throughout the years. Additionally, Paul has been involved with the Jewish Pavilion Board of Directors for the last several years.

Recently, the couple compiled their own senior-friendly Memorial Service Program geared to elders served by the Jewish Pavilion at more than 50 continuing care facilities in the community. The program includes prayers that are not time specific so that the service may happen at any time of the day or week such as on a Sunday afternoon. The Memorial Service Program features an abridged service component, followed by a healthy dose of community and conversation, along with the typical trays of goodies found at an oneg. It is senior friendly because it is printed in large font while it also provides opportunities for residents and staff to lead responsive readings and to share memories if they wish to do so.

The Memorial Service Program is being promoted to the senior living communities by the Jewish Pavilion's four program sirectors so that activities directors can inform the family members of anyone who passes, and provide them with this option. The Federation grant will help fund additional work that the program directors do as a result of the program, including coordinating and attending the services, inviting the volunteers who connected with the resident to attend, and arranging for food services. Additionally, they will need to lead the service when the Stenzlers are unavailable. A leader's manual was written for this purpose.

Sammy Goldstein, executive director of Beth Shalom Memorial Chapel (and Jewish Pavilion Board of Directors member) noted that the implementation of a memorial program is vital to the elder-care community, and strongly supports the Stenzler's efforts. Goldstein shared, "When a member of the community passes the immediate family has its own type of closure, which may be a funeral service and sitting Shiva with the community. However, the elder community is underserved when it comes to end-of-life rituals, and are often left with an open wound when a community member passes."

As part of the May 27 service for Dill Hurvitz, the Stenzlers invited the Spring Hills community, made up of residents, caretakers and family, to share memories as part of the healing process. Cheryl Wiener, Hurvitz's daughter, thanked the Jewish Pavilion for visiting with her father for so many years, noting that he always had a special place in his heart for holidays and visits, and recalled her father lighting up whenever Program Director Emily Newman or the children from Congregation Ohev Shalom came by. She shared that "this beautiful service meant so much to me because I was among my father's friends at the place he called home".

Dill's daughter continued, "My Dad was fortunate to have family that visited him on a regular basis. Many do not see or hear from family (Jewish or otherwise) with any frequency. We maintained his membership at Ohev even after it became too difficult to bring him there for services and holidays. The visits from the Pavilion helped to keep his yiddishkite alive and remember all the holidays with his family in years gone by. Emily and the entire group of Pavilion volunteers became part of what he considered his Florida family. I can't thank them enough for all their efforts to do this."

Sister-in-law, Esther Wheeler continued the community conversation, choking back sobs as she shared, "Dill loved all people, and they loved him back." Spring Hills Program Director Robin Wolfe called Hurvitz "an amazing man", and remarked that after eight years together she knew all about his children, his grandchildren, and his love of the lottery and candy. One resident commented that Hurvitz was her first friend at the home, and later became her lunch buddy. A member of the staff reminisced about "Dill's unique character" and remembered him as a man "who had touched all our hearts". Laughter and tears intermingled, as happy times were remembered, while a tinge of sadness hung in the air over the communal loss.

The group was brought together one last time in Hurvitz's memory for an oneg with some food and drink. Fine Stenzler shared with the group, "In the Jewish community we believe life is for the living. Please join us was we share some goodies and sweetness in Dill's honor." The Stenzlers spent time getting to know the residents after the service while everyone lingered over cookies and juice. Several stopped to visit with Cheryl Wiener, swapping anecdotes about her father, along with smiles and more than a few tears. Charles Curb shared that he had enjoyed the service. After a brief discussion about Jewish life cycle events often being combined with food, he continued the community conversation, noting that people of all faiths "pretty much do it the same way."

Paul Stenzler and Terri Fine Stenzler leading a Memorial Service Program at Spring Hills Assisted Living in Lake Mary.

The Memorial Service Program is a new program offered by the Jewish Pavilion to residents of more than 50 elder-care homes throughout Greater Orlando. This program was made possible in part by a grant from the Jewish Federation of Greater Orlando. To volunteer at or to request a memorial service, or for more information, please call 407-678-9363 or visit http://www.jewishpavilion.org.


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