The Friendship Circle, a Chabad-run program matching able-bodied teens with special-needs children, has received an endowment gift of $500,000 from philanthropists Paula and Jerry Gottesman of Morristown.
The gift was announced at the organization’s annual gala, held March 21 at the New Jersey Performing Arts Center in Newark.
“The Friendship Circle on March 22 is different from the Friendship Circle on March 21,” said Rabbi Zalman Grossbaum, executive director of the organization in MetroWest, speaking with NJJN the day following the announcement. “It’s now a strong organization for the future that can guarantee to parents we will be around. It’s a huge step in terms of stability and long-term vision.”
His wife, Toba, serves as director.
The Gottesmans have created a variety of groundbreaking philanthropic programs in the area, with a particular emphasis on Jewish education.
The Friendship Circle, launched nationally in 1994 and brought to New Jersey 11 years ago, provides children with special needs a range of Jewish and social experiences. It also offers teens from the area a chance to connect with these children through volunteer work.
“We came to the Friendship Circle program last year and visited their facility this year and we’re just absolutely so impressed with it. We think it’s wonderful what they’re doing,” Paula Gottesman told NJJN shortly after the announcement.
In her prepared remarks on being honored, she said, “We just are so privileged to have been introduced to the Friendship Circle. We are in awe of the work Toba and Zalman do. They are the most amazing people. They are people who really walk the walk. The work they do and their volunteers do is inspiring. It’s one thing to support an organization; it’s another to get out there daily and weekly, and they are truly amazing.”
Over 800 people attended the gala. The Gottesmans, together with Dara and Doron Barness and Robyn and Scott Krieger, were the evening’s honorees.
“If we strive to emulate these pillars of our community, then we’ll always be doing something right,” said Scott Krieger in his remarks, referring to the Gottesmans.
Just after the announcement was made, hip hop artist DeScribe, joined by Friendship Circle children, performed “Pure Soul,” a song he wrote for the occasion. The video for the song, produced by Lenny Bass, includes performances by reggae star Matisyahu.
The Gottesmans’ philanthropic initiatives include a tuition subvention program at the Nathan Bohrer-Abraham Kaufman Hebrew Academy of Morris County in Randolph, which now serves as a national model. They were also among the earliest supporters of the MetroWest Day School Endowment to help fund all three area Jewish day schools. Their Paula and Jerry Gottesman Family Supporting Foundation is housed at the Jewish Community Foundation of MetroWest NJ.