The beautiful sight of the leaves changing colors added the perfect background for a successful 5K attended by 175 runners on Sunday morning. At noon, Rabbi Zalman Grossbaum, CEO of Friendship Circle at LifeTown of Livingston, addressed the multigenerational, pet-friendly crowd as they gathered at the Jerry Gottesman Center off Route 10 in Livingston ahead of the walk attended by thousands. Rabbi Grossbaum spoke about coming together with “mitzvot, song and prayer for Israel.”
The “FCwalk & Run” is an annual event organized by the Friendship Circle to raise funds for daily programs at LifeTown, catering to children and adults with special needs. These programs offer a diverse range of activities, such as sports, art, cooking and swimming, all tailored to the unique abilities and sensitivities of the participants.
On this brisk autumn day, the crowd gathered with placards of their schools or groups, prepared to walk a mile to support the cause.
The eagerly anticipated event, noted Rabbi Yisroel Rosenblum, coordinator of the awareness-raising initiative, is a chance for the entire community to show their support for Friendship Circle and LifeTown, while also having some fun.
Am Yisrael Chai, the underlying theme throughout the program, was led with prayers for Israel by Rabbi Grossbaum. He requested everyone gather to join in unity “in order to bring blessings to our community and the entire world” by reciting along with words from two special parshas. He spoke of acts of kindness bringing peace and tranquility to the world.
“As part of the worldwide Jewish community, our team Israel needs our support from their team members,” said Scott Krieger, a former president and current board member of both Friendship Circle and the Jewish Federation of Greater MetroWest.
“Acting together with a loud, cohesive voice,” he added, “the community emergency fund sent $1 million to Israel on the first day [when war was announced in Israel], and the local Jewish community donated over $25 million in the last two weeks.” He announced that additional donations can be made at www.emergencyfundforIsrael.com, with 100% of the contributions going directly to Israel.
After thanking family, friends and volunteers, Rabbi Grossbaum thanked the sponsors, including companies and individuals who supported the Friendship Circle program. For a full list of sponsors, see the website: https://www.fcwalk.com/Static/sponsors.
The reason for being there for the Friendship Circle activity with parents, siblings, children and others, the rabbi noted, was to have fun on a nice Sunday as part of a beautiful team. A special thank you went to the host city Livingston Police Department, plus the Essex County Sheriff’s Department and MetroWest Hatzalah for being there to protect everyone. Mayor Michael M. Vieira of Livingston was introduced and enthusiastically told the crowd that Livingston loves LifeTown.
Abby Weiss, a Friendship Circle president who raised the most money on Sunday among the volunteers, stated that she began her volunteer work with the group as her bat mitzvah project six years ago. Her momentum remains palpable.
Following encouraging words from Sharon Leshetz, the mother of children who participate in Friendship Circle programs, Rabbi Grossbaum cut the tape to start the race. An estimated 2,000 walkers who, along with the 5K runners, were “closing in” on raising over $200,000 from online sponsors, took off to participate in the one-mile walk.
“All teams did an incredible job,” said the organizers, as they cheered on the eager walkers with “Let’s walk for Friendship Circle.” After the walk, the “day of fun” continued with free rides and food for all to enjoy.
Demiana Doss and Amanda Smith, 10th graders were there to support their friend Madeline Kerner, president of Team Watchung Hills Regional, who has been part of the Friendship Circle family since she was a child.
Yitzi and Fran Rosenbaum, joined by Mindy and Gizzie Garb, all of West Orange, were among the many enthusiastic volunteers at LifeTown who participated in the walk.
Mountainside Stables, located in Lafayette, New Jersey, participated in the fundraising event for Friendship Circle by providing a petting zoo with lots of different animals. The event also had the support of volunteers such as Jordyn Samuels, who distributed free T-shirts and other merchandise to attendees to raise awareness and encourage support for Friendship Circle.
After considering whether to cancel the annual fundraiser due to the recent events in Israel, Rabbi Grossbaum affirmed that after consulting the board and professionals, they decided that the energy of people coming together shows Am Yisrael Chai. He emphasized that the children need this energy now and that the power of unity causes Hashem to bless us.
Rabbi Grossbaum concluded: “When we see darkness, we add light; when there is antisemitism, we respond with more semitism; when we see hate, we give love … that’s who we are. This is what coming together today is all about—energy and focus, especially for the children.”
Sharon Mark Cohen, MPA, believes everyone deserves a legacy. Follow her weekly Tuesday blog posts at sharonmarkcohen.com.