Celebrities Headline Global Shabbat Party for Children with Special Needs

Mayim Bialik lights Shabbat candles at the Global Shabbat Party.

Tens of thousands of people from around the world joined children, teens and adults with special needs for a virtual, star-studded Global Shabbat Party. The event was created to help ease the isolation and loneliness families who have children with special needs feel as they remain at home due to Covid-19 even as restrictions were lifted in many places.

The brainchild of Friendship Circle and LifeTown CEO Zalman Grossbaum, he worked together

with Friendship Circles in West Bloomfield, Mich.; Columbus and Cleveland, Ohio; and Pacific Palisades, Calif., to assemble a who’s who of celebrities and entertainers with careful thought to featuring individuals the kids can relate to.

Howie Mandel introduced the musical segment.

The Global Shabbat Party featured actor and comedian Howie Mandel, who has spoken publicly about his life with obsessive-compulsive disorder. Also featured were America’s Got Talent winner and master pianist Kodi Lee, who is blind and has autism, and comedian Lee Ridley, aka Britain’s Got Talent winner “The Lost Voice Guy,” who uses a device to speak. Both men utilize their unique abilities to shine light on their talents and bring smiles to others.

Actress Mayim Bialik hosted the first-ever international “Circle of Light” Shabbat candle-lighting, which began in New Zealand and concluded in Alaska. Bialik said the event was an exciting way to “connect with people across the world who share a passion for making the world a better place.”

She added, “It’s a beautiful way to light the Shabbat candles together to illuminate these dark days.”

Comedian Billy Crystal was among the celebrities attending the Global Shabbat Party.

Other celebrities who took part in the global event included comedians Billy Crystal and Elon Gold, basketball stars Ray Allen, Omri Casspi and other NBA Legends. While the band 8th Day wrote and performed a special Shabbat song especially for the broadcast.

Grossbaum told Lubavitch.com. “Although we are still hosting a range of virtual programs to support our families, we wanted to do something on a larger scale that would let them know they are loved and cared for, and also give us a chance to highlight some of the incredible kids we get to work with every day,”

The program was dedicated to the Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem M. Schneerson, of righteous memory, and it was his vision that children with special needs should be brought into the community at large that paved the way for the creation of Friendship Circle.

“The Rebbe often spoke about the beautiful unique abilities individuals with ‘special’ needs have. Similarly, there is nothing more beautiful than the light Shabbat brings into the world each week. Knowing that we could all use a little more comfort, beauty and light in our lives, what better way to celebrate Shabbat and Friendship Circle than to share our Global Shabbat Party with the world,” said Grossbaum.

“Despite the challenges of doing production during a pandemic, we were able to put together a great lineup of talent and content, through comedy, music and animation,” said the program’s producer Chaim Marcus. “The celebrities we reached out to were so impressed with the program that they went above and beyond and are doing what they can to help.”

Marcus explained to Lubavitch.com that they chose to highlight one aspect of Shabbat—candle lighting—during the 25-minute program after the organizers shared a moving story; A student rabbi was sent to Alaska by the Rebbe to reach out to the Jewish people in the state. Visiting a school in a small village, he met a young Jewish girl who said she felt like her Judaism didn’t count on the far away and frozen tundra. Marcus turned this into an animated short that preceded Bialik’s “Circle of Light” segment. 

“This story resonated for us,” Rabbi Levi Shemtov, director of the Friendship Circle in Michigan and who created Friendship Circle in 1994, told Lubavitch.com. “One little girl in Alaska felt insignificant as a Jew until she was shown that she completes the circle of Shabbat light for the world every week. Every child, no matter where they are and how society sees them, plays a vital role and the world is not complete without them.”

Missed it live? Want to relive the fun? Watch the replay at www.GlobalShabbatParty.com.

(Tzemach Feller of Chabad.org and Ashira Weiss of Lubavitch.com contributed to this story.)

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