Friendship Circle Purchases Workmen's Circle

BY: ARLENE FINE, Staff Reporter

Published: Thursday, November 16, 2006 10:33 PM EST





Workmen's Circle building on S. Green Road will soon be Friendship Circle's home.

The soon-to-be-completed $300,000 sale of the Workmen's Circle building on Green Road in South Euclid to the Chabad House of Cleveland's Friendship Circle promises to be a square deal for both parties.

“Our philosophies regarding children are very similar,” says Friendship Circle director Rabbi Yossi Marozov (Orthodox). “Both organizations (one religious, one cultural) are interested in preserving Jewish values and strengthening children's connection to Judaism.”

An article in the Nov. 11 Plain Dealer quoted a retired Seton Hall University professor as saying the business deal with Chabad's Friendship Circle “sounds like Workmen's Circle made a pact with the enemy,” a statement Marozov strongly refutes.

“Workmen's Circle in Ohio is neither secular nor socialist,” says its chairman Jack Greminger. (The Plain Dealer article described it as “secular.”) “Our message is to bring Yiddishkeit to the community and to encourage social justice programs to make the world a better place. That is why we are in harmony with Friendship Circle.”

Friendship Circle is run by Marozov and his wife Estie. The program trains teen volunteers to befriend and share a full range of social and Jewish experiences with special-needs children. These include children on the autism spectrum, those with Down syndrome, children with Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD), and others with physical handicaps. “We describe a special-needs child as anyone who is socially challenged and needs a friend,” says Marozov. Currently 130 teen volunteers serve 60 special-needs families.


Last month, Friendship Circle put down $150,000 of the $300,000 asking price for the South Euclid building. The group is expected to close the deal in eight months. A capital campaign is underway to raise the remaining $150,000 plus enough funds to make significant improvements to the 41-year-old brick, one-story facility. The goal is to raise $1 million.

“The Workmen's Circle building was built before there were ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act) accessibility guidelines, so we will have to totally renovate the facility for handicapped children,” says Marozov. “That means making major changes to the bathrooms, hallways, flooring, hardware, lighting and entrances. All these renovations will take about a year-and-a-half to complete.”

Some of Workmen's Circle teen members are Friendship Circle volunteers, and a few of their families with special-needs children belong to the group.

Both Marozov and Greminger emphasize that Friendship Circle, not Chabad of Cleveland, is purchasing the building. It will be used solely for Friendship Circle programming.

“The arrangement allows Workmen's Circle to continue to operate out of a few rooms in the building for the next four years,” notes Marozov. “This is not the demise of the organization. We see this as a business decision to do something that works economically for both of us. No one should read anything more in terms of the future of Workmen's Circle.”

“Workmen Circle's staff has changed with the times and has held Yiddish classes at Gross Schechter School and Agnon School,” says Lori Cahan-Simon, the institution's school board chair. “Our own school enrollment is increasing. Yiddish is certainly alive and well in Cleveland.”

Marozov's first contact with Workmen's Circle occurred four years ago when he was asked to conduct a Jewish holiday workshop for their schoolchildren.

“From the moment I walked into the building, I developed a very warm, positive relationship with the children, parents and board members,” says Marozov. “I saw we were on the same page.”

That connection, like Friendship Circle itself, has blossomed over the past few years. Although many Friendship Circle programs take place in the homes of special-needs children, a large number of events are held in rented space at Workmen's Circle.

When the Friendship Circle decided it was time to find a permanent home, the familiar Workmen's Circle building seemed like a logical spot.

Last year, Marozov approached the Workmen's Circle board and discussed purchasing their building. The negotiations between the two organizations was almost seamless, notes the rabbi. “If the Jewish community is looking for a model of two organizations coming from different backgrounds that work together in perfect symmetry, they should look no further than us.”

Lisa Zimmerman, whose autistic 7-year-old daughter Talia attends Friendship Circle events, is pleased about the upcoming move to the large new space. “Often autistic children do not do well in crowds,” she says. “The new building with its large social room will be a very welcoming environment for children like Talia.”

Workmen's Circle staff and members are eagerly looking forward to sharing the space with Chabad's Friendship Circle and have agreed to follow the laws of kashrut in the kitchen.

Recently, Friendship Circle began a new program at Workmen's Circle called “Sunday Circle.” This is a two-hour program on Sunday afternoons that provides programming for special-needs children and also offers respite for their families. The children are dropped off at Workmen's Circle, and trained teen volunteers and professional staff interact with them on multiple levels as they provide enriching programs and activities.

Marozov, a Torah scholar, says the Torah teaches us that our responsibility as Jews is to help people challenged in any way and to always be mindful of giving back to the community.

“Our program is unique on two levels,” he says. “We are responding and accommodating to the needs of special-needs children and also showing these children how they, too, can give back to the community. Special-needs children play an important role by giving our volunteers an opportunity to grow as people and become sensitized to the needs of others.”

For information, contact Rabbi Yossi Marozov or Dassie Shtern at 216-381-1770.