The Friendship Circle of Los Angeles, a program that pairs teen volunteers with kids with special needs, now includes an after-school supplementary Jewish education program. The Friendship Circle Hebrew School opened Nov. 9 with separate boys and girls classes for kids with moderate to severe conditions such as autism, Asperger’s, Down syndrome and pervasive developmental delays.
“Most families who have kids with special needs can’t send the kids to Jewish day schools, and as a result there is a major void in their Jewish education,” said Rabbi Michy Rav-Noy, who founded and runs the L.A. Friendship Circle. “It’s very hard for parents to see their kids coming home singing ‘Jingle Bells,’ and not knowing Jewish songs or having Jewish art projects to bring home.”
Classes meet once week, taught by Rav-Noy and by a director who also runs the school and develops curriculum. Teen volunteers will be paired one-on-one with the students, shadowing them and offering direct assistance. The Friendship Circle is an Orthodox organization, but welcomes volunteers and students from all Jewish backgrounds.
Conservative synagogues Valley Beth Shalom in Encino and Temple Beth Am on the Westside also run after-school programs for students who have special needs.
Rav-Noy hopes to expand the school to kids with less severe disabilities and eventually to have a full-scale Hebrew school program for kids of all ages. He is working with Vista Del Mar, which runs programs for children with special needs, to develop further curricula and potentially to collaborate on creating more programs.
In addition to the Hebrew school, Friendship Circle of Los Angeles facilitates weekly visits between teen volunteers and kids with special needs, runs kung fu and karate programs, has Sunday and special holiday programs, and winter and summer camps.
Rav-Noy said he hopes to one day be able to open a Jewish day school that can serve children who have special needs.