A True Mitzvah
Teens with special needs experience traditional rite of passage.
Special to the Jewish News
Photos by Michael Jonas
tuning dreams into reality is
what the Friendship Circle
does best, and this was never
more evident than at the
recent joint b'nai mitzvah celebration of
four teens with special needs at the Shul-
Chabad Lubavitch in West Bloomfield.
Lauren Ettinger, 17, daughter of
Valerie Lane; Molly Grier, 17, daughter
of Ronelle Grier and Eli Grier; and
Stephanie Harris, 13, daughter of
Michele Harris, all of West Bloomfield,
blessed the Shabbat candles and the chal-
lah on Friday night Sept. 3, while Danny
Jonas, 17, of Bingham Farms, son of
Barbara and Michael Jonas, recited the
Shema at a Thursday night service Sept. 2
led by Rabbi IKasriel Shemtov.
A festive luncheon, hosted jointly by
all four families, was held on Sept. 5,
where guests enjoyed dancing to a lively
mix of traditional and Top 40 music. A
divider of brightly colored balloons pro-
vided the customary separation of men
and women on the dance floor.
Friendship Circle co-directors Bassie
and Rabbi Levi Shemtov and their staff,
including Sheva Bronstein and Brynie
Groner, masterminded the event, coordi-
nating numerous meetings, keeping track Right: Bar mitzvah
Danny Jonas with
of a multitude of details and reassuring
the nervous parents that everything
Greenberg of the
would turn out just fine.
"I'm ecstatic," said Barbara Jonas, fol-
lowing the ceremony. "I was very, very
nervous that Danny just wouldn't be able
to do it. But when he did the Shema for the second
time, it really choked me up. And having our family
and friends here is wonderful."
Her husband, Michael, said, "Now I know that mir-
acles do happen. Six months ago, we assumed that
Danny would never have a bar mitzvah; it was some-
thing we just didn't discuss. We owe this entirely to the
soul, and that's what he brings out in me — my true
commitment of the Friendship Circle and the dedica-
tion of Rabbi Aryeh Greenberg, who has a plethora of
Danny's maternal grandmother, Bea Dashow of
patience and genuine compassion."
Huntington Woods, said, "I'm just overwhelmed. My
Rabbi Greenberg, director of the Boys Volunteer
husband, Dave, and I never dreamed this would hap-
Division of Friendship Circle, provided weekly tutoring
for three or four months before the bar mitzvah.
Other volunteers from the Friendship Circle who
"Spending time with Danny is an experience that
helped the teens prepare for their big event included
brings out the true self of everyone he's around," Rabbi
Rachel Cicurel of West Bloomfield, Dena Hochheiser
Greenberg said. "He grasps, hugs and kisses the Torah
of Oak Park, Jordan Shifman of Keego Harbor, Julie
in such a way that you can see that this is a true Jewish
Kaplan and Emily and Rebecca Nadis
of Farmington Hills.
The volunteer tutors met weekly
with their students, using materials
provided by the Friendship Circle as
well as some of their own improvisa-
"I made up tunes to go along with
the prayers so Lauren could remember
them more easily," said Rachel
Cicurel, who has known Lauren for
the past year. "It was great to see her so
excited about her bat mitzvah, I'm just
really, really proud of her."
For longtime volunteer Julie
Kaplan, helping Molly prepare for her
bat mitzvah was the culmination of
the relationship they have developed
over the last six years. Kaplan accom-
panied Molly on the group visit to Yad
Ezra and also helped her select books
to donate to underprivileged children
in Costa Rica.
"After being Molly's friend for so long,
it was a great experience to help her
understand and expand her role in the
Jewish community," said Julie. "Making a
difference in her life has been very impor-
tant to me, and it was wonderful to
extend that so that she could make a dif-
ference to other people."
The teens also did a group mitzvah
project by helping to sort food packages
at the Yad Ezra warehouse in Berkley.
Several local businesses and individuals
provided services and support for this
event, including Perry's Party Rentals, the
Print House, Joe Cornell Entertainment,
Phil Tewel of Jewel Kosher Catering,
Valerie Scharfman of Always a Party and
More, Charlene Wolfe, and Michelle and
"I was really proud; it meant a lot to
me to see my sister up there," said Molly's
brother, Ethan Grier. "I never knew this
could happen." His sister Lily agreed.
"Molly really enjoyed it," she said, "and it was fun
lifting Molly and the other girls up in their chairs."
Michele Harris said, "I had been thinking
about a bat mitzvah for Stephanie, but it was more in
terms of 'Wouldn't it be nice if ...' Two weeks later,
Brynie Groner called me; and it was like a dream come
true. Doing this as a group made it so much easier, it
was a beautiful way to start this wonderful program."
"I was very excited," said Stephanie, breathless
A TRUE MITZVAH on page 76