Joshua’s Club Is a Tribute to Beloved Young Man
Joshua Gendel was just two years old when he joined Friendship Circle in 2001, and instantly he and his family—including mom Erica and dad Steven—found their community.
“Josh started with Friends @ Home and those first two teens who visited him are now married with families of their own, but they are still a part of our family,” said Erica Gendel. “And their families are a part of our family and community. It was a breath of fresh air to have someone come in and be with Josh. He giggled and laughed. He had fun. I know he did, and that was the most beautiful thing in the world.”
That joy and laughter followed him throughout his youth. “Josh grew to love and expect Friendship Circle to be a part of his life and his world. He loved going to Toba and Zalman Grossbaum’s house on Shabbat and to Friendship Circle programs wherever they were held before LifeTown was built.
“Wherever it was held and however hard it was to get him there” it was worth it, she said, because “he beamed. He beamed. He truly beamed. His joy radiated to everybody, and his happiness was radiant. Friendship Circle was truly in his heart.”
Once the pandemic hit and everything switched to virtual, Josh was able to be a part of everything going on including special programs for young adults and online summer camp, even though his health had started to decline.
“Some things were a little goofy, but he loved it!” his mother said. “Sometimes he would just watch, but he still got a lot of out of it. We started making challah at the very first week of camp, and we continued making it every Shabbat. We continued that even after he couldn’t sit up anymore. I would start the process of making challah in his bedroom and the smell of challah baking truly permeated our souls.
“It was truly one of the gifts of Josh’s final months that he was able to be with his friends from Friendship Circle, virtually,” she said.
After Josh passed away in April, his family—both his biological and his extended FC family—was determined to keep his connection to the community he loved.
The result was the creation of Joshua’s Club, a new online Friendship Circle program for participants ages 21 and older. Individuals with special needs in that age group can be particularly isolated as they are no longer in school and some of them now live in group homes and may no longer be able to attend FC programs in person, all of which makes a virtual option even more important.
The program runs monthly and includes a project participants can make together—with materials provided by Friendship Circle.
“Having a program that can bring our young adults together has been something we have wanted to do for a long time,” said Rabbi Zalman Grossbaum. “Our experiences with online programming during the pandemic proved that this would be a viable option for our young adults to remain engaged with Friendship Circle and each other.”
Said program coordinator Esty Grossbaum, “Our participants can’t wait to get together and have told us over and over how much fun they are having. They enjoy meeting up with their peers, some of whom no longer live in town, cooking and creating age-appropriate projects together much like they did when they were Friendship Circle kids.”
Joshua’s Club launched right before Rosh Hashanah. During their first get-together, participants made their own apple-honey cake for the Jewish New Year. “What a nice program!” said one mother, “Daniel very much enjoyed participating and seeing everyone this afternoon.”
Knowing that young adults, including Josh’s friends, will be engaged and having fun together through Friendship Circle means the world to his parents.
“It was truly one of the gifts of Josh’s final months that he was able to be with his friends from Friendship Circle virtually. It was a gift,” said his mother. “And I am overjoyed that there are [now], multiple modalities to connect with the population of special needs in person at LifeTown, with activities outside and virtually.
“Josh was so involved and wore his Friendship Circle shirts proudly. He loved it and he made that clear to everyone he talked to. This keeps that connection going and having Joshua’s Club is truly overwhelming for Steven and me.”
Simply put, she said, “Josh loved being a Jewish kid and Friendship Circle kept that in his world. If you ask a lot of parents of special needs children what really gets their kids going it might be a TV show or a game, but for Josh it was Friendship Circle.”