Friendship Circle holds its annual banquet
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Friendship Circle holds its annual banquet

Honorees Erica and Steven Gendel receive their award together with a framed Josh’s Club box; Josh’s Club is a new project dedicated in memory of their son Josh Gendel. Pictured from left are Toba Grossbaum, Esty Grossbaum, Erica and Steven Gendel, and Rabbis Levi and Zalman Grossbaum. (Photos courtesy Friendship Circle)
Honorees Erica and Steven Gendel receive their award together with a framed Josh’s Club box; Josh’s Club is a new project dedicated in memory of their son Josh Gendel. Pictured from left are Toba Grossbaum, Esty Grossbaum, Erica and Steven Gendel, and Rabbis Levi and Zalman Grossbaum. (Photos courtesy Friendship Circle)

This year’s Friendship Circle Banquet had 450 attendees for an evening of inspiration, celebration, and tribute to the honorees — Ed Zinbarg, Erica and Steven Gendel, Andrea and Phillip Bershad, and Marisa and Jeffrey Bershad. The June 21 gala was the first at LifeTown since before the pandemic began in 2019.

Sam Prince, 19, a Friendship Circle participant-turned-volunteer, opened the program. He participated in April’s NFL draft through Make-A-Wish New Jersey, traveling to Las Vegas to announce the Giants’ first round pick. Sam received a heart transplant when he was 8.

The audience saw videos highlighting the evening’s honorees.

“Friendship Circle is making the world a little more beautiful one day at a time,” Phillip Bershad said. The Bershad brothers, who own the wallcovering company Phillip Jeffries Ltd., were inspired by their own family involvement in Friendship Circle to hire Eric Helweil to work at their business. Mr. Helweil’s father, citing the company’s policy of planting a tree for every wallpaper order, said that in hiring Eric, “You have planted a life.”

Friendship Circle became the world for Erica and Steven Gendel, whose son Josh was born with cerebral palsy and other medical issues.  It was a place, Mr. Gendel said, where “Josh was just like everyone else.” Josh participated from the time he was 2 until he died a year ago, and Josh’s Club was created to honor his memory. It’s a way for young adults to continue to connect through the virtual programming that helped Josh connect during the pandemic. “It was indescribable what that opportunity was to him and to us, as if we were in this building,” his father said.

Barbara Zinbarg, z”l, volunteered across the community for many years, but her husband, Ed Zinbarg, said that Friendship Circle was a special place for her.  “She would come home from this place, beaming, and saying, ‘It’s the most gratifying thing I ever did.’” He endowed Fabulous Friday Nights in her memory.

The evening celebrated the work of Friendship Circle and LifeTown, which offer an array of educational, social, and recreational programs for people with special needs, including children and their families, as well as volunteer opportunities for teens. LifeTown also partners with JESPY House and Jewish Services for the Developmentally Disabled.

“The magic, the energy, the life of LifeTown is all because of you,” Rabbi Zalman Grossbaum said. “It’s all about the community coming together to care for each other and to be there for each other.” Rabbi Grossbaum announced that LifeTown had just received the permits necessary to complete its swimming pool.

Go to blog.fcnj.com for pictures and videos.

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