On Sunday, December 25, LifeTown transformed into Chanukah wonderland. Entire families came to spend the day together, engaging in activities galore: donut decorating, game shows, candle-making, and more.
While three-year-old Basya, who had come from as far as Riverdale, helped Rabbi Yisroel Rosenblum with the olive press, eliciting giggles from grownups as he engaged the children while making oil to light the Menorah, Caleb was a contestant on the Game Show “Concentration” in the theater, where he and a teammate helped reveal a rebus puzzle by finding matching pieces on a movie theater sized screen, with a little help from an exuberant live audience. “It was fun to play and we got the most points!” he said.
“This is a very special place,” said Matt Leshetz, who was creating some dot art pictures with his son Jacob in a quiet art room. “And what better way to celebrate Chanukah than by making dot art dreidels?” he said, acknowledging that he himself was finding the activity mesmerizing, even therapeutic. “You can tell there’s a lot of thinking and experience behind this place,” he said of LifeTown. “They really get these kids. When kids get overstimulated, they can head into the sensory room.” And for the moment, Jacob wasn’t budging. His dad suggested heading to the theater for the game show. “No. Too much,” Jacob said. He was perfectly content with dot art.
Next door in the kitchen, teen volunteer Hannah Blugrind welcomed a wave of would-be donut decorators including Sam Frankel, his adult sisters Hannah and Sara, and his parents Claudia and Jeff. “This is way better than going to the movies,” said Sara, referring to their usual activity. As Sam drew an “S” in white frosting on his chocolate frosted donut with Sara’s help, Claudia pronounced the day “fabulous,” adding, “We’re so happy to be able to celebrate Chanukah together here. It’s the first time we’ve all been together in six months.”
Hannah, setting up yet a new group with donuts, frosting, and sprinkles, has been volunteering for three years. “I just love seeing kids genuinely happy in a place where they feel loved and engaged,” she said.
Matt, a participant, was managing the coffee shop, greeting customers as they came in and helping them with coffee. When business was slow, he headed to the corridor to drum up business. He told one disappointed customer that there was no decaf and suggested a soda instead. “I like doing this,” he said. “I like seeing people’s happy faces!” His mother, Meryl, helping behind the counter as well, said, “He’s a born salesman! And when he comes here, it’s like an alternate universe for him.”
Ella Kaufman and her two children, Ken and Dina, were finishing sand art in Ahuva’s Art Studio in the LifeTown Shoppes. They had already spent time jumping at the playground, “the most important activity for Ken,” Ella said, and decorated donuts and spent time at the olive press demonstration.
For her, gratitude for LifeTown goes well beyond having something to do on a day with few options in the outside world. As she snapped a photo with her children, she offered that she moved to New Jersey from Ukraine years ago. “What would happen to me if I was there with my children? There are people with special needs children there – how would I take care of them? We are all extremely fortunate here,” she concluded.