Simon Barzilay, a 32-year-old on the autism spectrum, is running the Miami Marathon in January. He is raising money and awareness for the Friendship Circle of Atlanta, a Chabad-affiliated organization that supports people with special needs by pairing them with teenage volunteers.
It is a group “he is heavily involved with and through which he makes friends and gets to try new things,” said the Friendship Circle’s co-director Rickelle New. She called his efforts “an incredible story of perseverance, courage and giving back.”
The AJT visited Barzilay at his Brookhaven home for a chat in mid-November.
AJT: So what’s the plan, Simon?
Barzilay: I’m trying for some more money for the marathon that’s going on; looking forward to that. It’s my first time doing a marathon.
AJT: Why did you decide to do this, and what is the money you raise going to do?
Barzilay: I have special needs, and I want to give opportunities to those other people who have special needs. It’s going to Friendship Circle and for the trip that we’re going on. It’s for that too, the hotel and the food, all that.
AJT: So how is the money raising going?
Barzilay: Pretty good! I’ve raised $883 so far.
AJT: How did you raise it?
Barzilay: I went to different people and asked for money. People I know from synagogue and from the Kroger that I work at, the one near Roswell Road and Wieuca.
AJT: What do you do at Kroger?
Barzilay: I’m a bagger, and I take out carts to people’s cars.
AJT: You’ve gotten to know customers there and so forth?
Barzilay: Yes, I made friends there.
AJT: Tell me about Friendship Circle.
Barzilay: It’s a get-together. We learn Hebrew every other Thursday. On Wednesdays we have a cooking club.
AJT: You like cooking?
Barzilay: I never was a cook, but — I don’t know if you know about the Jewish tradition — one time we made challah. It’s a type of bread. We do it for the Sabbath, for Friday nights and Saturday.
AJT: Have you had good support from Friendship Circle? Is that a good group to be in?
Barzilay: Yeah. I like the different activities. One time we did bowling. Sometimes there are birthday clubs, but I don’t always join in because I’m busy working and stuff.
AJT: Do you have training in running for marathons? How much running do you do?
Barzilay: Sometimes I run to catch the bus to get to work! I haven’t started training yet. I’m trying to get a trainer, somebody who can teach me, like a coach who can run with me. Rickelle said she would find a trainer to train me.
AJT: Have you been to Miami before?
Barzilay: Yeah, my mom’s mother lives there in Florida, near Miami.
AJT: Are you from Atlanta?
Barzilay: My mom’s originally from Brazil. My father is from New York, near Manhattan. I was born in Israel, in Tel Aviv. I went back in 2007 with Noah Pawliger, who runs a camp called Living Wonders.
AJT: What else do you like to do?
Barzilay: I like to play basketball. I sometimes go to the JCC in Dunwoody to use their court. I like Jewish music and some jazz and classical. I like some country music, but not all. I went to Ireland in 2003 for the Special Olympics in swimming there; I did pretty good. I kind of stink at baseball.
AJT: How are you getting to Miami?
Barzilay: I’m flying. My father’s flying with me.
AJT: Who’s your dad?
Barzilay: His name is Joshua. He’s an M.D., works with people with diabetes. He’s a specialist.
AJT: What can our readers do to help out?
Barzilay: Just give money to the Friendship Circle (www.fcatlanta.org). That way we can raise money for the marathon. All the families will be there. I’d like to raise a bit more money for the trip; that way we don’t end up broke!