Pre-Tisha B'Av Unity in Jerusalem

Ahead of day of national mourning, acts of kindness celebrated by Friendship Circle that pairs special needs children with teen volunteers.

Hillel Fendel ,

Friendship Circle volunteers
Friendship Circle volunteers
Friendship Circle

As Tisha B'Av, the Jews' national day of mourning, draws near, the focus is on Jerusalem – the "city united together," in the words of the Psalmist.

Many people who are working to keep Jerusalem united under Israeli sovereignty today, hope to thus indirectly rectify the disunity that brought about the destruction of the Second Temple on this day 1,947 years ago.

In fact, the city is truly replete with daily and hourly acts and displays of kindness, brotherhood, and unity. Consider, for example, the Friendship Circle of Central Jerusalem’s recent annual "Volunteer Salute - Evening of Appreciation," honoring dozens of its dedicated volunteers.

The Friendship Circle is the fastest growing Jewish organization promoting friendship and inclusion for children with special needs by pairing them with teenage volunteers for weekly hours of camaraderie and social activities.

The event first highlighted the hundreds of weekly volunteer hours invested by teenaged girls around the city with special-needs children. It also focused on a very well-known Klezmer clarinetist – and his family's 24/7 acts of kindness that led them to adopt two Down Syndrome children, one of whom charmed the audience (see below).

Present were volunteers from Bet Shulamit, Bet Chana, Hartman School for Girls, Jerusalem Art School, Tehilla, Machon Bina and Machon Shoshana.

"This was an evening flavored with a beautiful energy of  'Win-Win,'" said FC Director Chanie Canterman, "and a celebration of the goodness we are thrilled to see our youth perpetuating."

Mothers who came to thank the volunteers learned that their children's older friends had gathered themselves in order to thank them in return, for the honor of meeting their special children and becoming enriched from the curative power of giving.

As guest Odelia Berlin told the assembled, "the Hebrew word for 'and they gave,' v'natnu, is a palindrome (read the same backwards and forwards) – teaching us that when one gives of himself, he can't really be sure if he's doing the giving or receiving; it's a two-way street."

After several moving talks by parents and volunteers "boasting" of how much they each gained by FC's programs, the audience was then treated to a special performance by well-known Klezmer clarinetist Moussa Berlin and his two daughters: pianist Odelia and 19-year-old Noga, who has Down Syndrome.

Moussa and his wife are personally connected to the Friendship Circle, having adopted Noga 19 years ago after she had been abandoned in a hospital for three months with not a soul to love and care for her. 

Noga Friendship Circle

The Berlins came to know about her "case" because they were asked to help find an adoptive family – and Moussa's wife ultimately gained so much practice entreating others to take the baby that she finally convinced herself to do so. It was only then that they learned the child was also unable to speak or hear.

Undaunted, they spent their every waking hour working with the baby, whom they named Noga (Brightness) – and even adopted another Down Syndrome baby some years later. 

In light of this story, the crowd was astonished to watch Noga, now 19-years-old, take the microphone with poise and good cheer, and say: “My name is Noga. Noga means a special light…I'm Noga because - Kef li, things are great for me!"

She also explained that, in the words of the special blessing recited by women, "G-d made me kirtzono, in accordance with His will. That is, I'm exactly how He wanted me to be! And everything that G-d does is for the best."

Noga then delighted the audience in accompanying her sister in song, and the participants were visibly moved.

Finally, the volunteers were honored with words of encouragement and appreciation from Mr. Kurt Rothschild, founder and president of the World Mizrachi Organization. Now in his nineties, Mr. Rothschild began volunteering for Jewish causes in Israel at the young age of 18, and has never looked back.

"Being Jewish is synonymous with performing acts of goodness and kindness. The world out there is becoming rougher and tougher. Building a kind, inclusive community is our only way to survive. This is what will keep Am Yisrael functioning until the final Redemption,"  said Rothschild.

Kurt Rothschild Friendship Circle

Friendship Circle