Friendship Circle Shabbat dinner
Alina Wagner and her father, Forrest Wagner. (By Jenna Anderson)

The Feb. 7 Shabbat event brought special needs children, their families and volunteers together.

A community Shabbat at Friendship Circle in West Bloomfield celebrated the connection between local families of children with special needs and the young volunteers who work with them.

After the Feb. 7 Shabbat service and meal, speakers from both groups addressed the crowd of about 100. Meanwhile, children were able to play games and make crafts.

Hayley Snyder spoke about how she, her husband and their three children benefit from Friendship Circle. Older daughter Leila, now 13, was diagnosed with epilepsy when she was 2, and Snyder noted the long line of doctors and medications needed to keep Leila healthy. 

“Physically, it was challenging — and emotionally trying and mentally exhausting,” she said.

In her speech, Snyder used an essay, “Welcome to Holland” by Emily Kingsley, to describe what it’s like having a child with special needs.

“Everyone dreams of traveling to Italy, but the plane gets diverted and ends up in Holland,” she read. “There’s no gelato or Colosseum, but it’s beautiful, and everyone who lives there loves it. 

“When we accept — no, embrace — that it’s our life, that’s when we learn to love Holland,” she said, remarking how Friendship Circle has become her family’s version of Holland. “This place, these people, bring us to tears. In Italy, there may be more laughs, but here there are tears of joy.”

Snyder’s younger daughter, Sophia, is also involved in Friendship Circle as a volunteer. Her friend Alina, 6, attended the community Shabbat with her family.

“We had never been to a Shabbat before,” said Alina’s father, Forrest Wagner. “We felt really welcomed.”

This is Alina’s second year participating at Friendship Circle. Her younger brother Christopher, 3, tags along with the other siblings.

“I think he’s a little jealous Alina gets to go more than he does,” Wagner said. “Alina’s had a great time there. She absolutely loves it. It gives us a little break, too.”

Guests light the Shabbat candles before dinner.
By Jenna Anderson

Friendship Circle Girls Teen Board officers also shared their thoughts.

“You can take the girl out of Friendship Circle, but you can’t take the Friendship Circle out of the girl,” said President Ellie Friedman, 18. She started volunteering in seventh grade, and she will graduate from Walled Lake Central in the spring. “The skills I’ve gained and the relationships I’ve built here are everlasting and, for that, I’m grateful.”

Vice President Carly Bernard, 15, said, “I will cherish the friendships I have made and the people I have met for a lifetime.” She started volunteering when she was in fifth grade; she is currently a sophomore at Bloomfield Hills High School.

Teen volunteer coordinator Rachel Mizrachi, 21, helped plan the event. She said her favorite part was seeing the community built by Friendship Circle. 

“All the families came together to support something they felt really strongly about,” Mizrachi said. “It was beautiful, wholesome and inspiring.” 


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