About Philly Friendship Circle

Based on the bedrock foundation of "love your fellow as yourself.”

The Friendship Circle provides organized physical and social structures to support inclusive friendships, connections, respite, and fulfillment for youth with special needs, young adult volunteers, their respective families and the Jewish community at large.

Through fun and interactive experiences, these relationships bring a sense of joy and meaning to the Friendship Circle community and beyond.

Meet Our Team

Rabbi Zev Baram   |  Chief Executive Officer Chief Executive Officer

Rabbi Zev (zev@phillyfriendship.com) is a graduate of the Rabbinical College of America and holds a certificate from the National Leadership Consortium on Developmental Disabilities at the University of Delaware. He has been working in the special needs community since his teens and has been trained and certified in various modalities of special needs intervention and support. In his role as executive director, Zev ensures thoughtful oversight of administration and programs and the execution of the strategic plan. He is actively involved as an advisor at all events and at Friends at Home introductory visits. He proudly leads the Friendship Circle’s Birthright Trip to Israel. Zev’s love of people and passion for those with special needs are ever present in all of his work.

Chani Baram   |  Chief Relationship Officer Chief Relationship Officer

Chani (chani@phillyfriendship.com) is a graduate of Bet Chana Academy in Israel where she augmented her extensive experience in formal and informal Jewish education and programming. As the older sister of three siblings with special needs, Chani brings her unique personal experience and her many years working in the community. While Chani works with Zev to set the strategic direction and provide advice on the on-going operations of Friendship Circle, her primary role is to develop and nurture the personal relationships with our FC youth, parents, families, board members, donors and staff which are the backbone of Friendship Circle and its success.

Meryl Sussman   |  Chief Operating Officer Chief Operating Officer

Meryl (operations@phillyfriendship.com) has worked with children, teens and families in schools, camps, synagogues, and social service agencies for more than 30 years. She has a BA from the University of Pennsylvania and an MA in Jewish History and MS in Social Work from Columbia University. Inclusive programming, logistics and operationalizing ideas are areas of interest and strength. She will be working with the entire team to further strengthen, systematize and enhance PFC programs and operations. Meryl looks forward to having fun at Sunday Circles, to getting to know all members of the PFC community and to supporting Chani and Zev in strategic planning. Meryl loves to cook and to go to the theater.

Cait Gilmartin   |  Lead Friendship Expert & Behavior Specialist Lead Friendship Expert & Behavior Specialist

Cait (cgilmartin@phillyfriendship.com)has worked with children and adults of all ages in different capacities across the Philadelphia area, utilizing skills in relationship building, teaching, behavior strategies, consultation and counseling. She is a graduate of SJU and Philadelphia College of Osteopathic Medicine. Cait holds advanced degrees in clinical psychology and school psychology, receiving a doctorate in school psychology in 2014. Cait has been having fun and meeting new faces at Sunday Circles and other programs since 2009. Cait loves making art and music in her spare time and tries to read a book every week!

Samantha Holzer   |  Program & Curriculum Coordinator Program & Curriculum Coordinator

Samantha Holzer (programs@phillyfriendship.com) grew up in Pittsburgh’s Squirrel Hill community, where she was very active in The Friendship Circle there starting from a young age. She went to college at Ohio University and graduated in 2020 with a B.S. in Child and Family Studies. Her program prepared her to work with children and families throughout the lifespan in diverse settings. Samantha has a strong desire to work with and impact the lives of others. She was one of three founders for the Indivisible Appalachian Ohio student organization. She planned and executed community projects and recruited volunteers as well as discussed policy issues that would help better advocate for the people they served. She just recently moved to Philadelphia in August and is so excited to be a part of the Friendship Circle team!

Amanda Thum   |  Communications & Engagement Lead Communications & Engagement Lead

Amanda (outreach@phillyfriendship.com) was born and raised in Brooklyn, NY, spent a few years in Hawaii, and has lived in Philadelphia since 2018. She is a proud graduate of Barnard, the women’s college of Columbia University. Amanda is a certified yoga teacher and founded The Confidence Class: yoga for women and girls’ confidence. She is a high energy people-person, and confident communication is her jam. She loves to facilitate group learning and encourages young people—especially girls—to speak up (and often). Amanda is ecstatic to be a part of the Lubavitcher Rebbe’s mission and life’s work through Philly Friendship Circle! In her spare time, you can find her teaching class, exercising, jumping out of airplanes, and praying.

Laurie Sked   |  Member Supports Coordinator Member Supports Coordinator

Laurie (members@phillyfriendship.com), a Philly native, with a stint in the DC-Metro area, comes to Philly Friendship Circle with first-hand experience of being a special needs parent who has participated in multiple Philly Friendship Circle events. After graduating from Fairleigh Dickinson University, with a B.A. in Communications, Laurie moved to the DC area where she worked in the Hospitality industry, doing everything from Marketing and Group Sales, to printing and advertising, as well as working with actors who portrayed “George and Mary Washington”. The years spent in Hospitality provided Laurie with opportunities to expand on her customer and member service experience which she excitedly brings to her role as the Member Support Coordinator. You may find Laurie walking her dog on a trail or at an area playground or trampoline park with her kids.