Friendship Circle showcases the talent of Soul Studio’s art program at a stylish party in Palm Beach County

Dylan and Jeannine Somberg. (Liza Kue/Friendship Circle)

“Soiree in the Sunshine State” was filled with amazing art, food and libations.

“It was a crazy idea we had a year ago, but our friends helped us out,” said Rabbi Levi Shemtov of Friendship Circle. The rabbi is referring to “Soiree in the Sunshine State,” an event filled with art, food, and amazing libations. More than 160 patrons and friends attended the event and the auction.

The evening began with chatting and viewing the exhibit at the Arts Warehouse in Delray Beach, Florida. A variety of media, from oil paintings to ceramics to digital art and more by participating Soul Studio artists filled the space. Upon entering the gallery, visitors received a booklet of the exhibited works and an explanation of the artist’s inspirations. The auction brought in $33,300.

Friendship Circle, founded in 1994 by Rabbi Levi and Bassie Shemtov in West Bloomfield, is a nonprofit organization that supports children, teens, and adults with special needs and their families. One of his many projects is the Vera and Joesph Dresner Foundation Soul Studio. The studio is a professional art space and gallery encouraging the creativity of anyone with a cognitive or physical disability, regardless of their artistic talent. Completed artworks are displayed in an exhibition held at the studio and other venues.

From left to right: Estelle and Phillip Elkus;  Gail Danto and Art Roffey;  and Rick and Dana Lowenstein.
From left to right: Estelle and Phillip Elkus; Gail Danto and Art Roffey; and Rick and Dana Lowenstein.

“The Rebbe’s vision inspired us to help one person at a time and see the big picture,” Bassie Shemtov said. “We have a lot of friends in Florida, and we had to take the artists and the artwork to the next level,” she added. She described the Arts Warehouse space as a new and exciting platform to showcase talent.

Artist Dylan Somberg, 28, of Shelby Township, who has autism, exhibited three works of art. One was a ceramic clam with a pearl inside and the others were multimedia paintings.

“I love animals and I’m very passionate,” Somberg said. An animal painting had a three-dimensional look with hanging turtles, fish and birds. His fascination with nature and geometric shapes combines many processes and techniques.

Rabbi Levi and Bassie Shemtov
Rabbi Levi and Bassie Shemtov

Dylan’s mother, Jeannine Somberg, praised the Friendship Circle and the Soul Studio. “It’s a special place because my son is safe there and his self-esteem has skyrocketed,” she said. “I know they don’t see a disability; they see an ability,” she added.

Proud supporters Estelle and Philip Elkus, of Bloomfield Hills and Boca Raton, were part of the host committee and have been involved with Friendship Circle from the start. They introduced the programs to others.

“My friends, Estelle and Philip Elkus, showed me around the Circle of Friendship, and I was amazed,” said Rhoda Tobin of Orchard Lake.

Rhode Tobin
Rhode Tobin

Friendship Circle is a family affair for Gail Danto and her husband, Art Roffey, of Palm Beach Gardens. “We were involved in Soul Studio when it was just an idea,” Danto said. His brother and sister-in-law, Jim and Sandy Danto, were also part of the host committee.
Dana and Rick Loewenstein from West Bloomfield came to support their friend Ron Hodess, who is chairman of the board. The Loewensteins have a long history of supporting people with disabilities and also supporting Soul Studio’s inclusive environment. Rick Loewenstein is the former CEO of JARC.

With the artists, the artwork, and all the friends supporting them, it’s obvious that the Soul Studio magic has come to the Sunshine State. Bassie Shemtov summed up the vision: “Miracles happen.

Carla Schwartz is the former editor of Style magazine, a former Jewish News columnist, community relations consultant and blogger. Visit his blog at

Kayleen C. Rice