We are so proud of our very own Karen Koller for being honored as the Woman of Valor at the 2019 Jewish Woman’s Day. Karen is Jonathan Koller’s mother, and has been with Friendship Circle since 2012, they currently live in Monroe. See for yourself the extraordinary woman that Karen is, as she shares her speech from JWD about the missing puzzle.

The Missing Puzzle

by Karen Koller

Karen with Tova Chazanow, receiving the Woman of Valor award.

Why me? What is special about me? Why am I getting this honor?

I grew up in Brooklyn, the youngest of three girls in a wonderful family with great friends. My mother was a teacher, my father an accountant, my older sister a school nurse & my middle sister a teacher. I was a special education teacher.

Family was and still is important to us. We celebrated everything together- holidays, birthdays, milestones and vacations. Life is good. Why me? What is special about me?

Philip and Jocelyn’s wedding, from left to right: Matthew, Jonathan, Jocelyn, Philip, Karen and Dov.

I met my husband on a blind date, set up by one of my best friends. He was touring the states from Israel. It was love at first sight. We got married a few months later & started our family. We have three sons, my mother called them my diamonds. They are.

Our oldest, Philip has his MBA and works in supply chain. He recently married Jocelyn  who is pretty, smart, works in marketing research and best of all she loves spending time with our family.

Our youngest, Matthew is a CPA, worked in finance, recently took a leave of absence to study in Yeshiva in Israel .

Dov, Karen, Jocelyn, Jonathan and Philip at JWD.

In addition to good looks and brains, Philip and Matthew are the best bookends to Jonathan our middle son, was diagnosed at age 4 with autism. This is a development disability  characterized by a difficulty in social interaction & communication. It is often described as a puzzle. Friends & friendships are difficult to make.

Welcome To Holland

by Emily Perl Kingsley

Karen and Jonathan.

When you’re going to have a baby, it’s like planning a fabulous vacation trip – to . You buy a bunch of guide books and make your wonderful plans. The Coliseum. The Michelangelo David. The gondolas in Venice. You may learn some handy phrases in Italian. It’s all very exciting.

After months of eager anticipation, the day finally arrives. You pack your bags and off you go. Several hours later, the plane lands. The stewardess comes in and says, “Welcome to Holland.” “Holland?!?” you say. “What do you mean Holland??

I signed up for Italy! I’m supposed to be in Italy. All my life I’ve dreamed of going to Italy.”

But there’s been a change in the flight plan. They’ve landed in Holland and there you must stay.

The important thing is that they haven’t taken you to a horrible, disgusting, filthy place, full of pestilence, famine and disease. It’s just a different place.

So you must go out and buy new guide books. And you must learn a whole new language. And you will meet a whole new group of people you would never have met.

It’s just a different place. It’s slower-paced than Italy, less flashy than Italy. But after you’ve been there for a while and you catch your breath, you look around…. and you begin to notice that Holland has windmills….and Holland has tulips. Holland even has Rembrandts.

But everyone you know is busy coming and going from Italy… and they’re all bragging about what a wonderful time they had there. And for the rest of your life, you will say “Yes, that’s where I was supposed to go. That’s what I had planned.”

And the pain of that will never, ever, ever, ever go away… because the loss of that dream is a very very significant loss.

But… if you spend your life mourning the fact that you didn’t get to Italy, you may never be free to enjoy the very special, the very lovely things … about Holland.


Matthew who’s studying in Israel at the time.

Why me? This is when I should’ve said why me, but I didn’t. Instead I said, OK what do we do? We researched and read and spoke to everyone possible. We went to meetings and conferences and read and researched some more. We hired therapists for a 40 hour a week program at home. We trained our family and friends in the same therapy. We learned integration was the best therapy. We did this as much as possible. We integrated Jonathan at home, school, camp, work. We became active in several organizations. Something was still missing. A piece of the puzzle was missing.

Jonathan graduated High School at age 21 & needed to be active. I was lucky enough to retire from the New York City Board of Education the same time I needed to be busy too. It was bashert, meant to be! A friend introduced us to Chabad. I began Parsha class with Tova and  JLI class with Rabbi Levi and Rabbi Chazanow. We participated in lectures on happiness, family, SOS ( smile on seniors ), art & other social activities. Chabad has something for everyone! Another friend introduced us to Friendship Circle,  one of the best organizations where people with disabilities & A typical peers get together for activities including Loaves of Love cooking, mall shopping, arts and crafts, recreation, Color run, winter and summer camps, & more. “More” means friendship, the part of the puzzle that was missing. It is difficult to decide who grows and gains more – volunteers, staff or those with developmental challenges. Friendships and relationships are definitely developed. This was the missing puzzle piece.

As you can see, Why Me, is not in my vocabulary. Instead I say -What can I do?

What can I do with my family and friends? What can I do in my community?

Karen with her sisters Linda (middle) and Eileen (left).

Chabad  and Friendship Circle are my answers. They are warm & caring, knowledgeable and sharing. I call them free therapy.
Everyone’s Life has challenges. How you choose to look at them is what it’s about. I choose to see the positives. I choose to see the windmills, tulips and Rembrandts.

Thank you Tova for giving me this honor. I am proud to call you my mentor & my friend. Thank you all Rabbis & Rebbitzens  for teaching me. Thank you friends  at Chabad and Friendship Circle for being our friends & for all you do. Thank you family and friends for your support today and always.

Thank you Dov, my husband, my partner for 32 years. Looking forward to more! Thank you, Matthew, Jonathan, Philip, Jocelyn, my three diamonds plus one!

Thank you to the Power of Women, over 300 are here today. What a great day!