Virtual Friendship Circle walk finds success in return to old Jewish neighborhood – Cleveland Jewish News

Posted By on October 28, 2020

Instead of hundreds of community members gathering together at a starting line for Friendship Circle of Clevelands 11th annual My Walk 4 Friends, more than 500 people created their own 2-mile route to separately participate in the organizations annual fundraiser Oct. 25.

The walk, normally held over Labor Day Weekend, was altered due to the COVID-19 pandemic, but despite numerous changes, the fundraiser raised more money on its walk day than in its history due to a first dollar-for-dollar grant matched by Pam and Craig Kahn and the communitys dedication to the Friendship Circle, said Rabbi Yossi Marozov, executive co-director of Friendship Circle in Pepper Pike.

The walkathon was over-the-top beautiful, uplifting and very hopeful for the future, he said.

The walk raised $408,715 of its $500,000 goal, as of Oct. 27. The funds go toward the current and future operations of Friendship Circles programs that assist children with special needs, including the daily virtual offerings the organization performs throughout the pandemic.

This years goal, Marozov said, was set to be more modest compared to years prior due to the pandemic.

I was concerned going into this campaign that because of all the uncertainty, people would be more apprehensive to support it, Marozov said. Boy, was I wrong, and Im happy about that. People have been amazingly supportive during this period. It just warms my heart and blows me away.

Five individuals found a special way to show their devotion to the Friendship Circle by combining the walk with their personal history.

Harley Cohen, board chair of the Friendship Circle, created a 13-mile path tracing the eastward migration of Clevelands Jewish community starting in Clevelands Glenville neighborhood and ending at the Friendship Circle. The walk took Cohen, Friendship Circle board member Michael Stovsky, and Friendship Circle supporters Larry Kupps, Jordan Kaminsky and Marc Terman to former synagogues and Jewish buildings along the way and following the movements of their prior generations.

Cohens idea for the symbolic path stemmed from Friendship Circle recently completing its strategic plan after a year-and-a-half that addresses the organizations mission, vision and future plans.

It occurred to me that the best way to ever do a future for anything is to first look at where you came from, because I think thats critical, said Cohen, a resident of Orange and member of Park Synagogue in Cleveland Heights and Pepper Pike. Looking in the past, to me, is the best way of determining where you want to go. If were going to look in the past, lets go back to the neighborhoods and see what it was like where we came from.

The nicknamed Circle Team had been filmed previously visiting three synagogues to be shown in the walks opening ceremony on Facebook Live. When 9:30 a.m. came on the official walking day, the five had their walking shoes and coats on, ready for what Cohen estimated to take three-and-a-half hours to complete.

Curious onlookers waved as they drove by or stopped and talked to the men, interested in their quest. Early on, the Circle Team befriended a pastor housed at one of the former synagogues, and minutes later they stood on the steps of an old Park Synagogue building sold years ago.

This history is so deep and so rich its just unbelievable, Cohen said. So many of these buildings are there. It just was amazing.

Friendship Circle threw a tailgate party for the families of the children it serves Oct. 25, where people remained in their cars and enjoyed a live band, a juggling show and raffles.

While it was different, Marozov knew the opportunity for its children to dance and see friendly faces outweighed anything.

Children with special needs have been hit especially hard with isolation, and theres great need for social interaction for friendship, Marozov said. Hopefully, things will be back to normal soon, and not only will all our programs resume, but well have to compensate and add more creative programs in the months and perhaps years ahead in order to address the regression of social stimulation.

With the success of the walk and seeing the support from the community, Marozov remains strong in his fight to continue Friendship Circles mission.

This year more than ever, we can all relate to the importance of social activity, connection and feeling part of a whole, Marozov said. Thats our job. Every child deserves a friend.

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Virtual Friendship Circle walk finds success in return to old Jewish neighborhood - Cleveland Jewish News

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