April 11, 2024
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April 11, 2024
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A Night to Celebrate Friendship Circle Volunteers

Last Thursday, I attended an incredible evening of tribute to the amazing Friendship Circle of Bergen County volunteers. The Friendship Circle is a Jewish non-profit organization that provides outreach, programs and support to families of special needs children. Through its unique approach to inclusion, it brings together teenage volunteers and children with a variety of disabilities for fun and friendship, and creates an enriching experience for all involved. The Bergen County chapter helps more than 200 families through programs for younger children and teens through age 21. Throughout the year, volunteers are matched with children who have special needs, and together they form a friendship by participating in one or many of the Friendship Circle’s weekly recreational programs.

The evening began with introductory remarks from Executive Directors Rabbi Moshe and Mrs. Zeesy Grossbaum, who thanked everyone for another fabulous year, and inspired the audience with the Friendship Circle’s message of unconditional love of all people. Next, Friendship Circle parent Mrs. Shirley Bitton represented all of the parents and movingly explained how Friendship Circle volunteers profoundly affect the lives of special needs families. She poignantly demonstrated how the Hebrew word for friend, chaver, has the same root as chibur, connection, and how, so fittingly, Friendship Circle volunteers develop connections with the children and teens that result in long-lasting, life-changing friendships. Friendship Circle participants Yosef Taubes and Hindy Markowitz touched hearts with their words and showed the importance of the Friendship Circle in the Jewish world. Rabbi Moshe Kinderlehrer, parent and president of the board of directors, spoke about the incredibly successful inaugural year of the Hebrew School, which had initially envisioned capacity for 40 children, but found room for more when, as Mrs. Zeesy Grossbaum explained, “We just couldn’t say no.” Finally, Rabbi Ronn Yaish highlighted Team Friendship Circle’s participation in the Miami half-marathon, and encouraged attendees to join him in Miami in January 2017.

We then viewed the debut of the new Friendship Circle video, which presented a gorgeous display of the Hebrew School and its positive effect on many children and their families. The evening concluded with the awards presentation, recognizing the many volunteers for their incredible contributions. Representatives of the area day schools and high schools proudly acknowledged the dedication and hard work of the volunteers from their respective schools.

The Volunteer Celebration was a night of tribute, honor, joy, warmth and love. Personally, we began our life-altering relationship with the Friendship Circle nearly two years ago. Our son attends the Friendship Circle Hebrew School and the many wonderful programs such as Yedidainu and Winter Camp, where on such days, when the children have vacation from their public school schedules, Friendship Circle coordinates programs in various local day schools; Sunday Circle, where the children, volunteers and staff come together for a wide array of entertaining, recreational and enriching activities; and many others.

Every second that our son spends with a Friendship Circle volunteer, a beautiful moment is born. And, it’s that moment that changes lives; it’s that moment.

It’s when a seventh-grade boy at Yedidainu at Yavneh selects our son to be with, knowing of the friendship I have with his uncle, and how it would make two families so happy. It’s that moment.

It’s when a middle-school girl assigned to our son at Yedidainu at Ben Porat Yosef encourages our son to take the lead in selecting the next game to play, building his self-confidence. It’s that moment.

It’s when an eighth grader at RYNJ, who has lived on our block for several years, sacrifices his Sundays to be with our son at Sunday Circle. It’s that moment.

It’s when two middle-school boys recognize our son’s comfort with letters, so they help him shape the challah, during the challah baking at a Friday Yedidainu at Moriah, into our son’s initials. It’s that moment.

It’s when five middle-school girls at Yedidainu at Noam personally escort our son to his mother when the day is over, because they don’t want to give him up. It’s that moment.

It’s when a TABC boy, who generally works with older children, nevertheless greets me at shul on Shabbos morning, simply to report how well our son did at Hebrew School. It’s that moment.

It’s when a Frisch junior spends the day with our son during winter camp, and the next day, on her way to the cafeteria to eat lunch with her friends, notices our son waving to her from a classroom, whereupon she reverses herself to eat her lunch with our son instead. It’s that moment.

Through these moments, Friendship Circle volunteers reach a level of temimut, completeness and perfection rarely seen anymore. But what does such perfection really mean? After all, aren’t we always told, “It’s OK, nobody’s perfect”? I have thought about this for a long time, and it was our relationship with the Friendship Circle of Bergen County which revealed the answer to me. For, you see, being perfect means when you can look at the person on your right, and you can look at the person on your left, and know that you have done everything you could for that person. That you have truly put yourselves in that person’s heart. That’s being perfect. When I walk into any room filled with Friendship Circle of Bergen County volunteers, it’s perfect. Because my heart is full. My heart is full.

To our dear volunteers: Thank you, and may Hashem give you the strength to go mechayil el chayil!

By Zevi Fischer

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