2019 Friendship Circle Banquet Recap

An evening of smiles and laughter

For Jonathan Newman the Friendship Circle Banquet was a chance to see just how far Friendship Circle had come since he’d been a volunteer 15 years earlier. Newman’s parents, Cliff and Maggie, were among the night’s honorees, so he certainly knew about LifeTown.

Seeing the building for himself, though, gave him a chance to reflect on how far Friendship Circle has grown since he was a teen and programming took place at the Joseph Kushner Hebrew Academy. “At the time I volunteered, it was much smaller organization and it had a smaller more intimate feeling,” he said. Also, “everything was make-shift and we were in and out of classrooms. Now it’s a wholly integrated experience which I think makes things easier and better not just for the participants, but also for the volunteers.”

Newman was one of 750 people who gathered for an evening of laughter and smiles at LifeTown to celebrate Friendship Circle and show their support for children with special needs. Banquet-goers saw all the amazing opportunities LifeTown will provide for participants and volunteers throughout the evening.

Walking through the indoor Life Village, people stopped for selfies in Life Village and posed for pictures under the theater marquee. They explored the history of Prince Range in the electronic store, eyed the grocery stuffs on the shelves at ShopRite, checked out the medical offices at the Barnabas Health Center and Pearly Whites Dental and considered what books to buy at the Words Bookstore.

And when they wanted a moment to reflect, they gathered on the village terrace and people watched.

Said Aviva Ritterman on her first visit to LifeTown: “The building is remarkable. We love being involved with such a chesed. We feel a part of it.” Ritterman and her husband, Joseph, have a unique connection to LifeTown, even though they hadn’t been in the building before. Joseph Ritterman works for New Jersey Tile and Stone, which provided the tile for LifeTown at a significant discount.

Also feeling a part of the night’s activities were FC participants like Max Lerner.

“The Friendship Circle Banquet was a wonderful experience for us, and especially for our son Max (a recipient of FCNJ services for 19 years) since this was the very first banquet he has ever attended,” said Heidi Lerner. “The nonstop smile on Max’s face during the event spoke volumes for [my husband] Keith and I.  Everything from the cocktail hour to the food to the honoree event and the dessert buffet was sheer perfection!”

The evening was also a chance to celebrate the evening’s honorees: Maggie & Cliff Newman, DRS Imaging Services; Robert Schultz, H. Schultz and Company; Drs. Brooke & Michael Skolnick, Pearly Whites Dental; Chanie & Ezzy Stavsky, New Jersey Tile and Stone.

Michael Skolnick brought a little levity to the evening when, after he and his wife were handed their award, said: “This event gets bigger and bigger every year, I think I saw someone scalping tickets out in the parking lot.”

Friendship Circle Executive Director Zalman Grossbaum became emotional as he read a letter from a Friendship Circle mom. “ ‘I can’t really thank you enough for last night at the Chanukah party at the new LifeTown Center. While my youngest daughter has benefitted from your programming for the last couple of years, last night was the first time her older sister who does not have special needs could join her and have fun … . To know that I can come to LifeTown and my kids can play and not be judged or be told they can’t participate in something is so healing for my heart. Watching my two girls run, jump, play and laugh in this new place brought me to tears.’ ”

Noting that Passover was to follow in just a week, Grossbaum said that when he hears from parents, “these are my dayenu [enough] moments. This email made it all worthwhile, but we are not content and we look forward to the miracles that will be repeated each and every day.”

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