Not Just Another Fabulous Friday Night

A lively Kabbalat Shabbat service set the tone for the evening as two hundred people gathered at LifeTown for a Fabulous Friday Night Dinner on April 29. As children played in the gym, jumped into the ball pit, and climbed in playground, Friendship Circle volunteers, families, and friends gathered to light candles and welcome Shabbat together. 

For the first time, groups from JESPY House, which supports independent living for adults with disabilities, and Jewish Services for the Developmentally Disabled (JSDD), which provides housing, support, and other services for developmentally disabled Jewish adults, joined the festivities. 

The event wove together different strands of the broader community. Cliff Aaron, a trial attorney and partner at the law firm London Fischer LLP, who also happens to be blind, served as guest speaker. He described the ways faith, humor, family, and his trusty seeing-eye dog Ford, who sat at his feet, help him every day to meet the challenges he faces living in a visual world. Aaron continues to try cases, travel around the world and play golf. (“Don’t worry, I’m not very good at golf,” he quipped.) 

Fabulous Friday Nights were created in memory of Friendship Circle volunteer Barbara Zinbarg, who passed away in May 2021. A longtime third grade teacher at what is now Golda Och Academy in West Orange, she had a tradition of offering a Friday surprise for her students to create excitement in anticipation of Shabbat. She dubbed it “Mrs. Z’s Fabulous Fridays.” When her husband, Ed, wanted to do something at Friendship Circle in her memory, he recalled her passion for sharing the beauty of Shabbat, and FCNJ’s Fabulous Friday Nights was born. The inaugural Fabulous Friday Night was held in August. A second “fabulous” Shabbat dinner took place during Hannukah.

“It’s really beautiful to see these dinners come to fruition,” said Zinbarg, who attended with his daughter and son-in-law, Allison and David Nagelberg. Recalling Friday night dinners at home growing up, Allison said, “They were traditional. A lot like this one – but a little smaller.”

“The energy of being together on Shabbat is so electric, so special,” said Rabbi Zalman Grossbaum, CEO of FCNJ and LifeTown. “We are so grateful to Ed Zinbarg for making these evenings possible, to Cliff Aarons, who was so inspiring, and to everyone who has joined us.” He added that he hopes the event will be a part of additional collaboration with JSDD and JESPY House.

For guests from JESPY House and JSDD, it was also the first time they had the opportunity to celebrate Shabbat in person together since the pandemic. The JSDD group included attendees from nearly every JSDD group home in the area. While one participant, Yael, took particular interest in the fruit salad, which included strawberries and lemon, another, Dina, said she enjoyed the three-course dinner that included salads, fishes, meats, and dessert. Her caregiver, Teresa, acknowledged that while Dina rarely agreed to leave her group home, she was happy to come to this Shabbat dinner. 

As the guests were beginning to drift homeward, the group from JESPY House made no movement to leave. Instead, they continued chatting and enjoying one another’s company. “We love being together like this to celebrate Shabbat,” said Deb. Sitting to her right, and pointing out that the dinner occurred just a day after Holocaust Remembrance Day. Jason, the descendant of survivors, added, “It’s especially good to be together welcoming Shabbat so soon after Yom HaShoah!”  Eventually even they made their way home, the sweet taste of Shabbat evening lingering.

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