As he looked out at the audience of teenagers in the sanctuary on the Kushner campus in Livingston on May 25, Israel’s consul general in New York smiled and spoke of his nation’s president, Shimon Peres.
“Our president is really young,” said Asaf Shariv. “He is 87. He tells me people are saying the future belongs to young people, but that’s nonsense. The present belongs to the young people. The old people will deal with the future. We need the future. I will worry about the future as an old man. If you are our future, we are in good hands.”
The 38-year-old Shariv had traveled to Joseph Kushner Hebrew Academy to honor 150 teens from throughout the MetroWest area who, as Friendship Circle volunteers, devote after-school hours to special-needs children.
It was the 10th anniversary of the group’s local chapter, which was organized in a collaboration of the Rabbinical College of America, in Morristown, and United Jewish Communities of MetroWest NJ.
Its current crop of young volunteers work and play with special-needs children after school and on weekends. They are among 850 local teens who have donated approximately 35,000 hours of their time to the program over the course of the decade.
In tribute to the volunteers, each was presented with a State of Israel Bond in place of the U.S. Savings Bonds awarded in previous years.
“Just as a flame can spread from one to another, so too, we salute each one of you volunteers,” said the local Friendship Circle’s executive director, Rabbi Zalman Grossbaum, a Chabad rabbi based in Livingston. “The flames you are lighting around our community spread and spread and spread and set our community ablaze in a positive way.”
The $100 bonds were awarded in the name of the late Jerry Waldor, who served as president of UJC MetroWest and helped endow the Friendship Circle.
“I don’t know how Jerry found the time for everything,” said Grossbaum. “He was a great husband, a great father, a great tennis player, a great leader who always had time for the community, and he always had time for work. So where did he find all the time?”
“He never slept,” shouted out Waldor’s widow, Rita, seated in the front row of the sanctuary.
As she stood before the audience a few moments later, Waldor looked out at the rows of teenagers and said, “I am so proud of all you children for doing this enormous amount of volunteering.” Recalling her own experience in the corps of Red Cross Grey Ladies while her husband served in the United States Air Force after World War II, she said, “I went to the hospital at the air force base and wrote letters for the soldiers who couldn’t do it, and I read to them. It was a heartwarming experience, and I’m sure you guys feel the same way” about the Friendship Circle activities.
“Jerry would have loved being here today,” she told NJ Jewish News after the ceremony. “He gave his heart and soul to the Friendship Circle. Because of Jerry, it has become what it has become — a very important part of our community.”
In another tribute to Waldor, Max Kleinman, executive vice president of United Jewish Communities of MetroWest NJ, told the audience that “Jerry was a great leader, but before you can be a leader, you have to be a volunteer.”
He said that by giving many hours of volunteerism, the teens are “fulfilling mitzvot [and] are learning to become leaders. Someone who is a volunteer as well as a leader makes all the difference in the world.”
A Livingston teenager named Jacob Lefkowitz agreed. “My relationship with the Friendship Circle is based on both giving and receiving,” he said. He told the audience he was inspired to become a volunteer seven years ago when he watched one who came before him befriend his brother Sam. “If there is one thing I have learned it is this: Volunteering is the single most important and rewarding thing we can do.”