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BY Bassie

Welcome to “Among Friends”

The Rebbe

The Lubavitcher Rebbe greets an individual with a smile. The founding of Friendship Circle was inspired by the Rebbe’s constant effort to help anyone and everyone.

Growing up in Oak Park, Michigan I was surrounded by a warm community and welcoming synagogues. I always knew that I wanted to go out and bring this warmth to a far away community. When my older sisters got married they moved to “remote places” such as Anchorage, Alaska and Charlotte, North Carolina. Then my cousins moved to real remote places such as Hong Kong. My best friends moved to Moscow. I felt joy and a little bit of envy.

You see, my parents were one of the first people that took the Lubavitcher Rebbes inspiration and instruction quite literally. Back in the 1950’s, very few people were able to actualize the Rebbe’s vision and move out of their communities in to the “wild unknown.” Since taking the leadership of the Lubavitcher movement in 1950, the Rebbe’s main message was one of sharing, compassion and love for every Jewish person no matter what they do, where they are in life and what their set of beliefs are.

My parents arrived in Detroit only one week after their wedding. And their mission was simple…Be there.

Be there for the needy, be there for the lonely, be there for the ones seeking guidance, be there for the bereaved, and be there for the sick. Be a shining light and a beacon of hope for people in need.

In 1994, Levi and I married in New York with a clear plan set for the upcoming year. We would spend the first year in New York simply studying and enjoying our new marriage. After that year of commitment-free, we would move back to Detroit and open The Friendship House- a supportive community for people struggling with addiction, isolation and other crises. But two weeks into our marriage, a devastating event altered those plans dramatically. Our beloved Rebbe, Menachem Mendel Schneerson, passed away on June 12, 1994. We mourned his passing we took to heart the many life lessons he taught us. And in those dark weeks, we found a call to action. Rather than prolong our work for another year, the time to act was now.

11 months early, we began packing up our apartment to make the move back to Detroit to open “The Friendship House.” As you can imagine, living in a New York apartment has it challenges. Small spaces, busy streets and…yep, you guessed it – cockroaches. Those slimy, repulsive bugs motivated me to pack fast. And I was packed and ready to go before Levi could even rent a moving truck.

Aside from my obvious intolerance for cockroaches, I was truly excited to be back in Detroit. Not because it was my favorite “warm community” or because I was afraid to go to a far away country like my peers. It was because we saw a serious need.

We reached our hands out to a community of families with special needs. The ones who are physically near but emotionally far. We reached out our hands to the ones who live in close proximity to a vibrant Jewish community but do not feel a part of it.

To the ones who quietly and silently stayed out of the Circle because no one invited them in. At the time, we did not have a plan but we had a vision and inspiration from the Rebbe, our parents and our fellow Shluchim around the world.

15 years later, the Friendship Circle is a realization of that dream, of that vision and of that passion. As a Chabad organization inspired by the Rebbe, we always knew the importance of being there for all people regardless of their creed, color and religion. That is why we opened our doors, not only to the Jewish community, but to ALL people with special needs.

Today we are here for all families who face isolation from their own “Circles” because of a special child they love. Today we are here for a parent who needs an hour of respite so they can have strength for their special child and the rest of their family. Today we are here to empower a sibling to recognize their special brother or sister as a gift in their lives rather then a burden.

Today we are here with a world-class facility that services the educational needs of 1000’s of children throughout the Metro Detroit area. Today we are here as a lighthouse in the community with a presence that says: YOU ARE NOT ALONE!

Today we are here for the young teenagers, who in the turmoil of their adolescents, learn to give, learn to be authentic, to be kind, to be compassionate and to see themselves and others for who they really are. Today we are here bringing the gift of special children to the lives of otherwise selfish and self-centered youngsters. Today we are here to train our future community leaders of the beauty of purity of ALL humans regardless of how well they communicate or how restricted their movements.

I welcome you to “Among Friends” to share, to learn, to educate yourself and others in the infinite capacity of the human spirit. I invite you to join the realization of our vision for a world where everyone is accepted, and everyone is celebrated.

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Written on April 28, 2010 by:

Bassie Shemtov founded Friendship Circle together with her husband Levi. Bassie is always looking for ways to enhance the lives of children with special needs while providing relief to their families and empowering teen volunteers.

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