Friendship Circle of Cleveland presented its Weinberg Teen Volunteer Award to 62 teens who gave their time to the organization throughout the 2020-21 program year at its annual awards reception, “Sparking Friendship,” June 6 at Acacia Reservation in Lyndhurst.

Featuring personal testimonies from volunteers and organizational staff on the impact of friendship and community engagement during the COVID-19 pandemic and beyond, honorees were presented with various awards, including the Friendship Circle award given to eighth graders, and mayor, senior, senator and presidential awards.

After beginning with a prayer led by Friendship Circle board member Harley Cohen, executive co-director Rabbi Yossi Marozov detailed the organization’s mission and how the volunteers being honored manifest that mission daily in their work.

“Our vision is an elevated community that realizes the special soul within each individual. Of course, this is a work in progress and it’ll only be fulfilled with the coming of Moshiach,” Marozov said. “The Lubavitcher Rebbe, of blessed memory, inspired us to realize that the era of Moshiach is coming very soon. We stand on the cusp of that era – a time where the world will reach its perfection in truth and peace.”

Marozov said though Friendship Circle did not exist when he was younger, now the teenage volunteers are “leading the way and showing us how soulfully connected we really are, despite our external differences. ... Our job is not complete until this reality inspires every member of our community.”

Following a video detailing the 2020-21 program year for teen volunteers, honoree Tyler Herman described his experience volunteering throughout the COVID-19 pandemic.

Honorees Tyler Goetz and Jack Hillard introduced this year’s boys honorees for the Friendship Circle award, mayor and senator awards. Honoree Sammy Rivchun spoke about going above and beyond to make sure everyone felt connected during the pandemic.

“I am so lucky the pandemic didn’t stop my ability to volunteer here at the Friendship Circle,” she said, detailing taking to Zoom to learn the parsha of the week and teach Hebrew with her friends, and helping facilitate virtual programming for the Friendship Circle community. “(These activities) brought so much light to a difficult time.”

After presenting the girls’ Friendship Circle awards and mayor and senator awards, facilitated by honorees Eliana Berezovsky and Tova Soclof, attendees learned about a unique friendship built between five boys – Nathaniel Soclof, Ephraim Blau, Elijah Soclof, Yedidya Blau and Yonaton Goldfinger – and how Friendship Circle brought them closer.

Raizy Gordon, volunteer coordinator, described her journey from a Weinberg Teen Volunteer to becoming the volunteer coordinator.

“(Volunteering) was my favorite time of the week,” she recalled.

After presenting both the boys and girls presidential and senior awards, by honorees Gavri Steiger and Leora Taub, respectively, and the teen leadership board awards, co-director Estie Marozov closed the event by thanking all of those involved in the event as well as those who make Friendship Circle of Cleveland’s programming possible year-round.

“Yossi and I would like to end the evening in a giant hug,” she said. “Thank you, Cleveland for your support.”

The Cleveland Jewish News was the media sponsor of the event.

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