Evening of Recognition May 31, 2015
A few months ago Freida and I were talking about the Gala. I made the suggestion that perhaps she should have a parent talk about their experience with Circle of Friends. I did not mean ME but I could not say no to Frieda Hecht.
I have given a great deal of thought about what I wanted to say to this amazing group of student volunteers. I only have two wishes for this speech: One is to express to these wonderful young men and women what a difference they make in the lives of others and secondly, I hope to get through this speech without crying.
To be a little Freida-like, who always starts with a joke, I am going to begin like this: A mother and a daughter walk into a synagogue with each other but unlike Freida, I will save the ending for later.
First I would like to give you a little background. We had many challenges when Ariel was born. In just a few seconds dreams were dashed and hope was taken away. Thankfully, our family had faith. We began a long journey together and although the road was bumpy, we managed to travel so much further than we ever thought possible. Little by little, and in her own time, Ariel learned how to walk, how to talk and she developed into the beautiful social caring person she is today.
Throughout this journey, we were her family. We were her friends.
When Ariel did start school she loved it. But her experiences growing up were different from most children. She did not have sleepovers, playdates or tons of birthday parties to go to. She had us. We were her family. We were her friends.
Ariel was fortunate to be part of the first religious class for children with special needs at our synagogue. And what an experience it was for her. The day she became a bat mitzvah will remain one of the most special days the Levy family has ever experienced. And how we celebrated. She danced with our family. She danced with our friends.
After high school, Ariel began to go to a workshop program. One day the staff told us about a program that might be nice for Ariel to attend. It was called Circle of Friends. I will never ever forget that first night. We were standing with a group of young men and women who had been at the workshop with Ariel for months. They were standing outside ready to go to Beth Israel for the first time. One by one they looked at each other and said “Are you Jewish? You’re Jewish? I did not know you were Jewish.” Such excitement. And when we arrived at the synagogue we were greeted so warmly; not just me but Ariel as well. Not just Ariel but ALL the others. We danced, we sang, we ate, we talked. Such a time we had. And when it was time to leave, Freida told us she wanted us to meet Rabbi Hecht. On the way to his office, she explained to Ariel that she should not shake hands with the
Rabbi. Ariel only heard the part “Shake hands with the Rabbi.” And when she extended her hand, I froze, but without missing a beat, Rabbi Hecht took her hand. I will never forget that moment as long as I live.
And so for the last 11 years Ariel has been a part of Circle of Friends and Circle of
Friends has been a part of us. It has been a safe and caring place for her, a place she loves. Thank you volunteers for making it all possible. You have given my daughter a community, an extended family. You have given my daughter friendship. If ever you should think twice about what you are doing, just know that you have added immeasurable joy to the lives of others. May your lives be blessed just as you have blessed the lives of others.
Now back to the story. A mother and her daughter walk into a synagogue with each other ------and they walk out with a Circle of Friends.