Celebrating Israel's independence in words and song


Seniors at The Mayflower in Winter Park were treated to a very special program of Israeli folk and Jewish music that focused on themes related to the founding and history of the Jewish state. Paul Stenzler, a Jewish Pavilion board member and past president, and Terri Fine Stenzler lead a monthly Shabbat morning service at the facility, and they designed the program after a recent discussion with their regular Shabbat attendees.

“They were saying it would be nice to have programming for both Jews and non-Jews,” said Terri. Paul proposed a musical program, and after some thought they realized that Israel Independence Day would be a perfect fit.

Paul, a veteran guitarist and performer, had performed many Israeli songs in the past and was very familiar with them. Terri prepared a short talk about the birth of Israel to introduce the program, and she introduced each of the songs with an explanation and encouraged audience participation and clapping along. “We emphasized right from the beginning that this was not a religious event and we encouraged all faiths to come,” said Paul.

The result was a program that was uplifting, entertaining and educational all at once, and the interfaith audience responded with great enthusiasm. “They loved it!” said Paul. “We got so much good feedback afterwards from the residents. They’re really interested in learning and listening.”

Terri opened the program with a summary of the events of Friday, May 18, 1948—the day Israel declared its independence and the new Jewish state was born—and explained the significance for both Jews and non-Jews. She also described the Israel Declaration of Independence’s seven claims to entitlement to a state upon which the document is based. Then she introduced the first song.

“The songs we sang, if you went to summer camp you would have learned them,” said Terri. They opened with “HaFinjon,” a well-known song about a ceremonial coffee pot that Jewish pioneers who hoped to found a Jewish state in Israel sang around campfires after a day of work. As Terri explained, the song uses the symbol of the shared coffee to express “the rekindling of hope and strength by the new Israeli settlers.”

Residents sang along to many of the most familiar songs, such as “Hevenu Shalom Aleichem” and “Yerushalayim Shel Zahav.” Paul also led a traditional hora, which Terri explained played a foundational role in modern Israeli folk dancing that became a symbol of the reconstruction of the country.

Meanwhile, Jewish Pavilion program director Susan Bernstein had to keep adding chairs to accommodate residents who dropped in to the already crowded room as the program commenced. “It was a wonderful program that everyone thoroughly enjoyed,” said Bernstein. “I really appreciate the effort that Paul and Terri put into preparing and presenting this program, and it was clearly a labor of love.”

With such an enthusiastic reception to their program, the couple is making arrangements to do a version of the program again this summer at Cascade Heights in Longwood. As with their regular Shabbat program, the Stenzlers found it to be an enriching experience.

“It was very spiritually uplifting for both Terri and me—but it always is when we go there. It’s like a family,” said Paul. “And it’s so special when we can do it together. It’s just a wonderful experience for both of us.”


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