Mr & Mrs. Jill & Brad

Jill and Brad Helfman’s commitment to the community and uplifting the lives of others has surely been passed on to their children. Among their involvements, Jill chairs the University Hospitals Partnership for Families Leadership Board, and Brad––a board member of Kent State University Hillel and 30-year Jewish Federation of Cleveland volunteer––devotes free time to coaching and officiating at ice hockey games for boys, girls and adults.

But beginning six years ago, they have drawn even more satisfaction and pride from their children’s inspiring dedication to Friendship Circle. “Everyone benefits from the wide range of services and programs Friendship Circle provides for children with special needs,” says Jill. “Through Lindsey’s volunteer experiences at Sunday Circle, she learned the invaluable lessons of compassion, kindness and connection. The experience was transformational.”

“As for Justin,” Brad says, “from the moment he became involved with Friendship Circle, everything clicked. He came home each week talking about the young boy with special needs he was paired with at Sunday Circle. As he increased his volunteer hours, Justin rose through the ranks and became a teen volunteer coordinator and member of the Friendship Circle Teen Leadership Board. We knew he was getting so much out of the experience and growing as a person.”

Residents of Solon, Jill and Brad are also the parents of Jared, a senior financial analyst at DaVita Inc. in Denver. Lindsey is now a student at the University of Michigan’s Ross School of Business, while Justin is an engineering student at Purdue University. Co-partner-in-charge of the Cleveland office of Taft Stettinius & Hollister LLP, Jill chairs its domestic relations practice. She is a fellow of the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers and a former president of the Ohio chapter. Brad is innovation development director at GOJO Industries, Inc.

Reflecting on Lindsey’s and Justin’s Friendship Circle experiences, Jill says, “They learned friendships are not always easy to make, but once those friendships occur, the bond is cemented for the long term. Now, when our children meet a person of any age with a disability, they are able to see the whole person, not just the disability.

“It’s been a gift to us as a family to have Friendship Circle in all our lives––and Brad and I often comment that we wish Friendship Circle had been around when we were teens.”


Mr & Mrs. Shoshana & Abe

The Socher family has been a part of Friendship Circle of Cleveland since its early years. Their children Coby and Dalia both participated in Friends @ Home during high school. When Bayla was born and subsequently diagnosed with Down syndrome 11 years ago, it was natural for Abe and Shoshana to turn to Friendship Circle for support and an inclusive community. Within three months of Bayla’s birth, Shoshana became a member of Friendship Circle’s Moms Meet Support Group and began a dialogue with Rabbi Yossi and Estie about inclusion that is still ongoing.

Bayla, now a fourth grader at Hilltop School in Beachwood, is a Friendship Circle regular. She attends Sunday Circle, Kulanu Inclusive Jewish Education program, summer camps and holiday events. For many years Bayla was part of the Friends @ Home program and looked forward to weekly visits with teen member-friends, whom Shoshana and Abe fondly recall as “exceptionally kind and caring.”

One program that is particularly close to Shoshana and Abe’s heart is Friendship Circle’s Kulanu (“all of us” in Hebrew) program that nurtures each child’s Jewish identity and includes Jewish learning for children with special needs along with traditional learners. “It’s so gratifying that as soon as we mentioned the need for a program like this to Rabbi Yossi, Friendship Circle ran with it,” says Shoshana. Bayla enjoys Kulanu so much that when she is dropped off at the Friendship Circle door, she eagerly runs into the building by herself to greet the other 11 girls in her class. “Through Kulanu, Bayla has a Jewish place that’s all her own, that she can identify with,” says Shoshana. “We are looking forward to her Bat Mitzvah next year.”

The Sochers actively participate in the annual My Walk 4 Friends fundraiser. “Team Bayla” and “The Socher Team” have raised significant funds and awareness for Friendship Circle. “We have enormous respect and admiration for the work Friendship Circle has done and continues to do for the community,” says Shoshana. “The funds we raise allow us to give back to the organization that has given us so much.”

The Sochers, who are native Californians, moved to Cleveland in 2000. Abe recently took early retirement from Oberlin College, where he was a professor of Jewish studies. He is the editor of the Jewish Review of Books, a leading magazine of Jewish thought and culture, which he founded in 2010. Shoshana, recently honored by Crain’s Cleveland Business, directs the Socher Team at Keller Williams Realty. She also runs an international Facebook group for Jewish parents of children with Down syndrome.

The Sochers are parents of Naomi Socher-Lerner (Beverly), Anna Sanders (Emmanuel), Coby (Sharon), Daniel (engaged to Katie Feld), Dalia and Bayla and the grandparents of Rutie, David, Mollie, Selah and Erez.


Mr & Mrs. Penni & Steve

Penni and Steve Weinberg’s connection to Friendship Circle started with a Torah scroll in 2007 when Penni’s father, Joseph Mandel, asked Rabbi Yossi to commission the writing of a Torah scroll in memory of Penni’s mother, Florence. “We met Rabbi Yossi the day the scribe presented the scroll to my father-in-law, and we were immediately drawn to his intelligence, sincerity and energy,” says Steve. As a friendship developed between Steve, Penni and Rabbi Yossi, so did the Weinbergs’ interest in Friendship Circle.

“The more we learned about the work Friendship Circle was doing for children with disabilities and their families, the more we were convinced this was something we believed in,” says Steve, president and CEO of Weinberg Wealth Management.

Recognizing the key role teenage volunteers, including their own grandchildren, play at Friendship Circle, the Weinbergs established the Steve and Penni Weinberg Teen Volunteer Award, which is presented at the annual awards event. The award recognizes teen volunteers who have learned the invaluable lessons of compassion, sensitivity and leadership from their Friendship Circle experience.

Although Steve’s community involvement included service on the Jewish Community Federation Board and as a Menorah Park life trustee, Penni encouraged him to join the Friendship Circle Board in 2013. The experience proved to be so meaningful that when Steve was tapped to be board chair a year later, he said yes. “I served four years of a three-year term,” quips Steve. Beyond devoting their time to Friendship Circle, Steve and Penni also provide substantial financial support.

Giving back to the community is something they were taught at an early age. “My mother volunteered as a cashier in the Mt. Sinai Hospital coffee shop run by the Women’s Auxiliary,” says Steve. “And Penni’s family set the standard for giving. They taught tzedakah by example, and their unwavering commitment to care for others has been passed down to our children and grandchildren. It’s an important component of who we are as a family.”

Members of Anshe Chesed Fairmount Temple, Penni and Steve are the parents of Pamela (Craig) Kahn, Jennifer (Grant) Dinner and Stephanie (Jared) Miller, and they have eight grandchildren.