Weekend Retreat

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Friendship Circle hosts trip for moms of kids with special needs.

Fawn Chayet, guest speaker Goldie Plotkin and Hayley Snyder

If ever there was a “tough act to follow,” it was last year’s Friendship Circle Shabbat at the Spa weekend, where 20 mothers of children with special needs came together to bond and rejuvenate. That weekend resulted in a sisterhood that continued throughout the year, with Torah-and-tea study sessions, couples get-togethers and an active Facebook group where moms share daily about the unique frustrations and joys of raising their special children.

While there was some trepidation about how this year’s program could possibly measure up, the second annual Shabbat at the Spa weekend, Jan. 30-Feb. 1, was a unanimous success that exceeded the expectations of participants and organizers alike.

The 30 moms, which included all 20 from last year plus 10 “newbies,” felt immediately at home upon arriving at the Riverwalk Place hotel and spa in Gladwin, about 150 miles north of West Bloomfield. After enjoying Friday afternoon massages, facials and pedicures in the hotel’s spa, the women gathered for a sumptuous Shabbat dinner, the first of many gourmet kosher meals and snacks prepared by private chef Hunny Khodorkovsky.

Like last year, dinner was followed by an exuberant pajama party with Shabbat-friendly entertainment, games and a Farbrengen (sharing session) that evoked equal amounts of laughter and tears.

On Saturday, the moms enjoyed thought-provoking team-building games and an inspiring presentation by guest speaker Goldie Plotkin of the Chabad Center in Markham, Ontario. As the mother of eight children, one with special needs, Plotkin imparted wisdom and humor about the group’s collective challenges and the power of positive thinking.

“I thought I was coming here to give, but I received more than I gave,” Plotkin said. “It was wonderful being with women who are so dedicated to their special children in such a dynamic way.”

The weekend concluded with an energetic Zumba class, a make-your-own pizza feast and a rocking karaoke party where laughter took center stage. After a delicious Sunday brunch, the moms shared an emotional wrap-up session punctuated by giggles and tears.

The group shared, cried, laughed and got silly together. This was karaoke night, and the bartender joined them for a photo (he has real facial hair).

“I was a ‘newbie’ to the weekend, and even though I have been at Friendship Circle with my son for over seven years, I didn’t get involved with the moms,” said Lisa LaBelle of Birmingham. “I didn’t realize what I was missing — the support, the laughs, the tears, the strength, the way we can talk with each other and know exactly how one another are feeling. It was a true emotional experience for me, and I’m humbled by the amazing group of women I met.”

 

To A New Level

While Friendship Circle Director Bassie Shemtov was thrilled that every one of the 20 participants from last year returned, she and co-organizer Sarah Schectman, family coordinator for Friendship Circle, were concerned about how the event would meet the bar set by the previous year.

“I was especially concerned about how the group would come together with our new moms,” Shemtov said. “I was wrong! This year has brought the relationships and spirituality to a completely different level. I can’t wait for next year.”

After the success of last year’s weekend, Shemtov and Schectman created a detailed handbook so other Friendship Circles could duplicate the event for the mothers in their organizations.

Maggie Egrin and Debby Suris

“We gave them samples of our menus, schedules, online design work, whatever we could provide to help,” said Shemtov, who said various Friendship Circle groups have expressed interest.

Many of the previous attendees said the weekend felt like “coming home,” without the initial adjustment period most experienced last year.

“It’s about being with everyone, having time to listen to each other, hug each other, make each other laugh,” said Sarah Rosenzweig of West Bloomfield, a mother of two daughters, one with special needs.

It was the first time Fawn Chayet of Bloomfield Hills had attended a program with other moms, although her son has participated with Friendship Circle for several years.

“I love the camaraderie,” she said, “to realize as different as we all are, we’re all the same.”

By Ronelle Grier, Contributing Writer

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