Photos: Chaim Tuito
A crowd of over 1,000 rocked the largest hall in The Jerusalem theater at this year’s Friendship Circle Jerusalem concert with singers Lipa Schmeltzer, Yonatan Razel and Chaim Zippel. 22 organizations for youth with special needs were represented.
This year’s Rockin’ Friendship #5 Hoshana Rabba concert was the kind of event one dreams of making but that rarely actually happens.
The event was attended by children and their families from many organizations. Among them – Alyn, Adi, Krembo’s Wings, Feuerstein, Simcha Layeled and others. Since its inception 5 years ago, it never fails to amaze. A seemingly impossible show that moved so many to tears, and succeeded in transforming an entire hall of the iconic Jerusalem Theater into one large family.
22 Special Needs Organizations were hosted by FC.C. Jerusalem, a project of the Chabad Shluchim to Talbiya-Mamilla, Rabbi Eli and Chanie Canterman, on Sukkot, at the 5th annual event, saluting people with special needs. This year’s resounding motto was – מחליפים בדידות בידידות.
Yet again, the team effort of FC Jerusalem together with Tzvaim Productions who paid attention to the tiniest detail, resulted in an evening that was moving, entertaining and beautiful.
Rockin’ Friendship #5 featured a line up of unequaled entertainers led by singers Lipa Schmeltzer, Yonatan Razel and Chaim Zippel.
Emcee Elozor Fingerer introduced the evening, lifting the spirits of the crowd from the start and they, in turn, took his cue and the enthusiasm of all was immediately apparent.
The atmosphere was electric as it propelled the audience into spontaneous clapping and cheering as the children of each individual school were welcomed in a rousing roll call.
From the first moment that ‘Israel School of Music Star’ Chaim Zippel came bounding onto the stage the hall came alive with a palpable energy. Chaim is one of the earliest volunteers of the Friendship Circle.
He ignited the flare that lit up the spark which made the evening happen the way it did. It was as if all the pent up feelings from the social restrictions of the recent years and lockdowns meant that everyone was there to party. From the youngest participants to the older generation, all had only one thing in mind; to be joyous, unified and to give the special children the greatest salute and celebration possible. One thousand people danced, clapped, waved hands, jumped up and down and even did cartwheels in the aisles. It was impossible not to feel uplifted by the atmosphere.
Lipa Schmeltzer was greeted with jubilation and he responded in kind and in kindness. The crowd rose to their feet, turning into one unified entity. The profound hapinees of the children, their familes and their FC friends may have been what spurred singing sensations Lipa Schmeltzer and Yonatan Razel to deliver one of their best performances yet. As each moment progressed, more and more people left their seats, dancing towards the stage. The stars sang, and sang some more, giving it all they had. The young Jerusalem Friendship Circle volunteers picked up their special friends and danced as though they never wanted to stop.
Families of children with special needs reveled in the embrace of the wider community who saluted them in appreciation of their daily victories over unique challenges.
The singers who performed are known for their different and even contrasting styles: Yonatan Razel (“Katonti”) and Lipa Schmeltzer (“Mizrah-Mizrah”), yet each sang the other’s songs. Their sensitivity to the children was ‘off the charts’ and clearly apparent when more than once, they welcomed the singing of FC participants on stage, so totally unaware of any disability.
One of the highlights of the evening was when a member of the friendship circle – Tutti Sasson, stood up and in her irresistable way, blessed the audience with a variety of blessings for health, children, livelihood, etc. to which the entire audience answered Amen loudly for each Bracha. Tutti waits for this opportunity every year and obviously feels like a Queen of the evening.
During the concert, a moving clip was shown of Avital and Moshe Boteach, who were doubtful as to whether to send their daughter Chana, a bright and lively child with CP, to Friendship Circle’s signature summer “Camp Klara”.
But when she returned from day #1 at camp, she had “light in her eyes” and radiated a new kind of happiness. Since then, the doubtful emails to FC turned into daily letters of thanks to the organization . A few weeks before the beginning of the school year, Chana was rushed to hospital with a medical crisis and tragically, passed away shortly thereafter.
“The video clip that Chana’s FC counselors of Camp Klara created of her two weeks at the friendship circle camp, full of joy of life (that turned out to be a few weeks before her passing), is what keeps us going until now,” said Chana’s father.
“To know that the last month of her life was spent in such joy, acceptance, love and friendship, is the greatest comfort to us. As if with subconscious psychic, Chana was voted by every counselor to be “Malkat Shabbat” at the grand Shabbat party on Friday at camp. If this is the power of two weeks of friendship, we can only imagine what a child at Friendship Circle can gain all year round..”
Nobody could be left dry-eyed on hearing this and seeing the parents, who are so grateful that they were able to see their daughter’s last smiles and hold those memories in heart and mind.
The incredible MC Elozor Fingerer, although recovering from a virus in the days leading up to the event, was not going to let the children down. It was no easy feat to have everyone return to their seats in order to welcome a surprise guest. For the second year running, Jerusalem Mayor Moshe Leon was welcomed on stage and, moved beyond words, chose instead to sing. Without hesitation, guest stars Lipa Schmelzer and Yonatan Razel, came on stage to sing with him.
Nobody there will forget the sight of the three of them singing ‘Im eshcachaich Yerushalayim’. A new version of “The Three Tenors”.
Once the Mayor left, the evening continued without any hiatus. Yonatan Razel sat at his piano and began to sing and play his signature songs. The audience sang along and a young FC child went on stage to sing Katonti with him and Lipa.
At one point, Lipa Schmelzer whisphered something in Yonatan’s ear and a moment later, they began a three minute long, ingenius and impromptu ‘gramen’ dedicated to the exceptional work of Friendship Circle Jerusalem. Following this, the two sprang from their seats to perform an unforgettable ‘ Mizrach Maarav’ duet, in which they included another FC teenager who was wheeled around the stage by Razel as he sang and harmonized with Yisrael Ber. He too was given a microphone and sang in chorus with the amazing union of Yonatan and Lipa.The crowd went wild ( see clip below), not just in song, but in unity and camaraderie. Razel concluded with a fast medley of happy niggunim, joined later by Chaim Zippel, and the guests were lifted to joyous heights.
This special evening clearly rocked in friendship. This show, that so nearly didn’t happen, moved many to tears. The challenges of hundreds of children were invisible that night and as one guest in the audience recounted afterwards; Tonight, there were absolutely no disabilities! Children connected to oxygen machines and those in wheelchairs, sat and enjoyed the evening for hours. The joy and light was powerful and unbridled. Tonight, wheelchairs flew as Disability turned into Ability.”
“It was a night of love, hapiness, sensitivity and acceptance of everyone with their abilities” concluded a grandfather who brings his grandchildren to the event every year. “Something unusual happened tonight. People left the event stunned by what they had seen, felt and experienced.”
The Friendship Circle of Central Jerusalem is a non-profit organization that connects volunteer youth with children with special needs, to friendships at home and social programs that encourage integration into the community, all year round. They have grown exponentially over the last year as more families appreciate the individual attention, care and love given to them by their dedicated FC friends and supporters.