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Thursday, July 18, 2019

Showing off T-shirts at the volunteer celebration. (Credit: M. Sabo)

All smiles at the volunteer celebration. (Credit: M. Sabo)

Hanging with friends at the volunteer celebration. (Credit: M. Sabo)

Friendship Circle of Bergen County volunteer celebration. (Credit: M. Sabo)

Friendship Circle of Bergen County (FCBC) recently held their fourth volunteer celebration. The evening was an opportunity to recognize and thank the amazing volunteers who enable the organization to host the activities they do throughout the school year. From heartfelt speeches to the recitation of Tehillim to the debut of the new Friendship Circle video, it was a wonderful event.

Zevi Fisher started off the evening with remarks about what it’s like to be the father of his son David, a beneficiary of the services of Friendship Circle. “Going out to dinner as a family unit rarely happens anymore. Going on family vacations has to be severely modified if they are going to happen at all. Getting to shul on a Shabbos morning can be a monumental struggle. And you start to feel alone. And it hurts. It truly hurts. But, then, suddenly comes along this organization, called the Friendship Circle of Bergen County, with its army of volunteers, with one stated mission: You will never feel alone again. Not on our watch. Because, we, the Friendship Circle volunteers, will bring the community to you.”

Zeesy Grossbaum, FCBC executive director, addressed the standing-room-only crowd and described the student volunteers and how accommodating they are. “I have seen volunteers bend down so that they are eye to eye with a child. I have seen volunteers change their conversation to include only yes and no questions in order to better communicate with a child who is nonverbal but shakes his head yes or no to questions asked directly. And I have witnessed volunteers, teenagers just like you, getting really excited about exotic cars they have never heard of to engage and interact with one of our students. After you join Friendship Circle and start to get involved, what seems remarkable to others, to you comes naturally. This is the true measure of the success of FC in our community.”

FCBC has volunteers from many yeshiva and public schools in the neighborhood and each has insights into what it’s like being a FCBC volunteer.

Atara Pietruszka, an 11th-grade student at Bruriah High School for Girls, has been a Hebrew School and [email protected] volunteer for the past six years. “When I got involved I liked that it was a new chesed opportunity for me. I loved it immediately. There was an automatic connection with the kids. I look forward to coming to Hebrew school to see how determined and excited the students are to learn every Sunday and I love watching them smile and seeing that light go off when they understand something.”

Xander Lifshutz is a junior at SAR High School. He’s very active in school activities, but for the last two years he’s devoted his Sunday mornings to being a Hebrew school shadow. When he first started he didn’t feel he was making a connection with Elisha, who would just hand Xander his bag but didn’t interact with him. That all changed the third or fourth week of school. “I sat down next to Elisha and said hello and he said nothing. Then I got up to get something and someone took my seat. When I came back, Elisha said to the boy, ‘My friend’s sitting there, you need to move.’ That’s when I fell in love.”

Sivan Kramarz is an eighth grader at Yavneh Academy. She’s a volunteer at Sunday Circle. She shared, “A few of my friends were involved with and had such good things to say about Friendship Circle that I wanted to get involved too. I started in sixth grade and have been a volunteer ever since. I like seeing the kids smile. We do art and dance and when I see them I say to myself, ‘I love volunteering here because no matter what is going on I’m always so happy I came.”

To demonstrate the number of hours teenagers have devoted to FCBC this year, Rabbi Moshe Grossbaum, FCBC director, brought out bags and bags of gumballs that were poured into a five-foot container. The container represented a total of 9,334 hours of Friendship Circle volunteer hours this school year! That’s equal to 389 days, which means more than a year of full-time volunteering.

To learn more about FCBC, to donate or to become a volunteer, visit www.bcfriendship.com.

By Sara Kosowsky Gross