Music lets their light shine

In a recording studio, the boys grab their instruments. Drumsticks hit a snare. Fingers fly over guitar frets and over black and white piano keys. The vocalists wear headphones while singing their song. It’s a familiar scene that has appeared in many music videos over the years, but this time something is different. In the Friendship Circle (FC) band, some members have disabilities and playing is a life-changing experience.

Music has always been a welcome outlet for Alan. He started taking piano lessons when he was a child, and although living with a disability has its share of challenges, those challenges didn’t stop him from becoming an accomplished pianist. Another great outlet was hanging out at the Friendship Circle of Cleveland, an organization that brings people of all ages with and without disabilities together to hang out, have fun, and find out how much they have in common. Through their extensive programming, Friendship Circle creates an inclusive community that values ​​all people regardless of the challenges they face.

When Rabbi Yosef Paysin, director of teen programs and a member of the Rogers Park Band, had the idea to start a band with the boys, it wasn’t clear that Allen would be in it.

“People often use the word inclusion to refer to the bringing together of people with or without disabilities,” says Rabbi Paysin. “I prefer to use the word integration. We are all part of the same whole, so I don’t include someone else in my world, but rather we both enter into one complete whole. Jewish tradition teaches us that we are one body. If one of us is missing, it does not take away from them alone, but from the fullness of the whole. We all feel a strong sense of identity about who we are and we all want to make a difference. Each person feels like they have something unique, a unique light to shine.”

On keyboards and as vocalist for the FC Band, Alan has found a whole new outlet to shine his light. Since the band was founded in 2022, the band has performed at many different Friendship Circle events in Cleveland and surrounding cities. They also expanded their horizons, traveling to both coasts for shows.

In addition to becoming a bit of a celebrity at the events he plays for, Allen has also become a role model for other teenagers. He traveled to Charlotte, North Carolina with Rabbi Paysin to play at the grand opening of Friendship Circle’s new location. Together, they invited some of the members of “Charlotte” to perform with them, and Alan did a duet with one of their singers.

“It was the most beautiful thing,” says Rabbi Paysin. “Two people with different disabilities managed to hold a room for 25 minutes – playing music, making jokes and banter. It was amazing.” Alan is now thriving at a local college studying music performance.

Alan’s best friend, Josh, who also has a disability, often hung out with the boys in the group. Being part of the band wasn’t even on his radar, but when the band’s drummer quit shortly before they recorded their first music video, Alan asked Josh to sit in on drums. He didn’t really consider himself a drummer, but he was willing to help his friend. This favor led to Josh joining the group permanently. He came home and told his mother proudly, “Mom, I’m a drummer.”

He began taking drum lessons every week and also showed an interest in songwriting. “He wrote at least three songs,” says Rabbi Paysin.

“I never thought I’d be in a band,” Josh says, “But with these guys, I feel like I can do anything.”

The impact on Josh’s life extends beyond the musical experience. He decided he wanted to run the 5K marathon, which meant staying motivated through three months of training. “To keep himself focused while running, he liked to talk about different countries on the map,” Rabbi Paysin recalls. “The whole 5K he kept that conversation going and made a whole bunch of friends as a result. The impact on his fitness, his ability to stick to a goal, work towards it and stay focused is incredible.”

This sense of confidence drew Alex, another participant in the Friendship Circle with a disability, to the FC group. As the band packed up all their gear on their way to record their first music video, Alex said, “Hey, I want to be a part of this!” Even though he’d never played instruments or anything like that before, the guys found a place for him as stage hype a person standing at the front of the stage and getting the crowd excited for the concert.

“The social connection with the boys gave him the confidence to join the band and get on stage. Last May, he performed in front of 500 people at the FC Grand Gala. He has his own incredible way of interacting and relating, and he manages to shine that way as a performer and as part of a group,” says Rabbi Paysin. Alex recently began singing for the band, bringing his infectious enthusiasm to their latest release, It will light up. “If you don’t give up, keep at it and you can fix things,” says Alex. “Never give up.”

Rabbi Yosef Paysin

“The parents have been so incredibly grateful, every step of the way, to see their children shine,” says Rabbi Paysin. Thanks to the FC Band, others can now see how beautifully Josh, Alex and Alan’s lights shine, which is deeply satisfying for their parents and inspiring for those who enjoy their performances.

“That’s what Hanukkah is about—that a little light can dispel a lot of loneliness or darkness,” Paysin says.

“Our song is about getting fired up with everyone, people with and without disabilities, to make great music,” Alan and Josh say. “You have to be positive about people with and without disabilities to make a forever friend,” says Allen.

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