Mega Mitzvah Mania 

LifeTown transformed into Mega Mitzvah Mania on December 25. On a day when so much is closed and finding activities can be a challenge, LifeTown was the answer for so many families, providing everything from a live game show to crafts, sand art, cookie baking, even bicycle riding in the LifeTown Shoppes. 

“We’re going from room to room having fun, doing everything. There’s just such a momentum of activity!” said Ellie Doctoroff, wandering with her three children, Ash, 10, Emmett, 8, and Levi, 4. She was thrilled to bake with her sons in the kitchen. “I would never allow cookie making at home. Here, they can make any mess they want!” she said with a smile on her face.

Alex Usdan from West Orange came with his 9-year-old daughter. “We made cookies, we’ve done sand art, and we made Havdalah candles. It’s just a good thing to do, to get out of the house,” he said. His older daughter volunteered for Friendship Circle when she was in high school, he said, and waxed poetic about the important role the facility plays in the community. Holding up his Havdalah candle, which had a rather unique look, he laughed, “I wasn’t really paying attention to the instructions, but we had a good time!”

If LifeTown was a useful solution to a tricky day for some families, it was something more like a seasonal miracle for Tova Erlich, who drove in from Philadelphia with her husband and three daughters to meet local friends. One of her daughters has the same rare syndrome as the friend’s daughter, and meeting at LifeTown was something they’d hoped to do for a while. Now, experiencing it for the first time, Erlich said, “It’s so amazing here. I wish we had something like this in Philadelphia!”

The key for her was that there were fun things to do for everyone, so all three of her children could enjoy the day. “We usually don’t get to do things as a family,” she said, because the focus is always on just one of the three daughters. “Here, my other daughters can have fun themselves!” She was thrilled to report that they were off doing sand art.

Even the volunteers couldn’t get enough. Emily Blum, 25, now a graduate student, started volunteering at Friendship Circle when she was in high school at Golda Och Academy. As she bustled from the kitchen out toward the playground, she said she never stopped coming to Friendship Circle. “I love to volunteer when I come back on breaks,” she said. And when she got an email about Mega Mitzvah Mania, she said, “Of course I came! I’m having a really fun experience today!”

As she’s grown into adulthood, she said, her favorite thing has become watching the parents. “I like watching them interact with each other and seeing them connecting. It’s really sweet.”

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