Josh Rubin (left) and Reuben Winston
Seventeen-year-old, Reuben Winston ran the Miami Half-Marathon on Jan. 24, placing 90th out of nearly 15,000 runners. The Charles E. Smith School Jewish Day School student ran with a purpose in mind — to raise funds for children with special needs, and particularly for one of his best friends, Josh Rubin. Fifteen-year-old Josh is Reuben’s friend through the Friendship Circle, an international Jewish organization that pairs teenagers with children with special needs.
“It was awesome having Josh with me in Miami,” said Reuben. “Running a half-marathon is not easy, but having Josh there really helped. He was the huge reason why I did it.”
Like all teenagers, Josh looks forward to weekends — but Saturdays are extremely meaningful because his good friend Reuben comes over to his Potomac home to spend time and to play with him. Josh writes, “Reuben is my Friendship Circle buddy and my best friend. He comes to my house on Shabbat. We always have so much fun together. We play basketball, soccer and baseball. We also throw the football. On rainy days we play Monopoly, Sorry and Trouble. Last year Reuben and I delivered Shalach Manot together. We also went snow tubing two times. We had so much fun.”
Reuben became involved with the Friendship Circle two years ago to satisfy his school’s Student Service Learning (SSL) requirement to graduate. Almost immediately, he discovered that completing the SSL requirement was not a chore — but a pleasure. Reuben said, “I knew from the start that we would form a great relationship; after all, my name is his name. I quickly learned that Josh is a ton of fun and he loves playing sports just like me.”
Josh’s family told the Winston family about the Miami Half-Marathon. At first, Reuben thought raising $3,250 per person would be daunting. After his mom raised the initial sum, he decided that he could also do it. Before long, both the Rubin and Winston families were involved, traveling to Florida and running or walking in the race. Working together, they raised over $25,000 for the Friendship Circle of Maryland and the 24-person Maryland team, under the leadership of Dana Ginsburg, raised $80,000.
The Friendship Circle of Greater Washington had 27 individuals participate in the half-marathon.
“It was part of a larger effort, coordinated with other Friendship Circle chapters from around the country which brought together more than 200 runners for an inspirational weekend in support of friendship and kids with disabilities,” said Rabbi Mendel Kaplan, executive director of the Friendship Circle.
Team Captain Dana Ginsburg is already forming a team for next year, hoping for more runners and walkers to raise even more funds for the Friendship Circle and children with special needs. To join in the effort, email Ginsburg at firstname.lastname@example.org.
“Our family has been involved in Friendship Circle for eight or nine years,” Nancy Rubin said. “My daughters Rachel, Rebecca and Sarah volunteered with the organization. Friendship Circle is amazing because it provides special needs kids with the opportunity to socialize with typically developing teen volunteers. In addition to providing special needs children with fun activities, Friendship Circle teaches teen volunteers the importance of reaching out to those with differences and treating them with respect, kindness, compassion and without pre-judgment.”
Each chapter is operated by its local Chabad Labavich Center. The Maryland chapter is one of the larger chapters. Chana Kaplan, co-director of Friendship Circle Maryland along with her husband, Rabbi Kaplan, said the goal of the organization is “to provide friendship and Judaism to people with special needs,” as well as teaching typical teenagers to “accept every person for who they are.”
The international organization has 11,000 teen volunteers and 5,000 children with special needs. The Potomac-based chapter has 2,000 volunteers, who are in sixth grade and up, and about 100 families who have a child age 4 and older with special needs. Friendship Circle oversees 40 matches a year – and many of these friendships are life-long.
To learn more about the Friendship Circle, go to www.fcmd.org.