Circle of Hope founder dies at 56

Cindy Knoll co-founded cancer support group


Because of her affable nature, Cindy Knoll was everybody’s best friend. She was perhaps best known for getting people to passionately support a good cause. She was an influential member of the community who helped countless cancer patients get through their struggles by sharing her own.

Knoll died of brain cancer on Aug. 31, at age 56.

As a breast cancer patient and a mother of three children, treatment and recovery were a struggle for Knoll. She relied on her own mother for help with her then 1-year-old daughter. She had the support of her family, but envisioned a community web of support for all local cancer patients to ensure that they would have the help Knoll’s mother provided her.

In 2012, Knoll co-founded the Circle of Hope, at the Chabad of Merrick-Bellmore-Wantagh, with other breast cancer survivors. The initial focus was female breast cancer patients, and the goal was to provide resources for them and their families in the form of emotional support, financial assistance and preventive health seminars.

The initiative kicked off at a formal women-only dinner, dubbed Journey for a Purpose, in October 2012 in recognition of Breast Cancer Awareness Month. Chanie Kramer, a Chabad co-director and the wife of Rabbi Shimon Kramer, still fondly remembers the massive turnout of more than 300 women.

“It was a large amount of women who wanted to be a part of the Circle of Hope,” Kramer recalled. “Why? Because Cindy put her name to it. She said, ‘We’re gonna do something good, something positive,’ and women wanted to be involved in something good … Certain people have that ability to get people together.”

The kickoff event raised $55,000 and featured a runway show sponsored by Runway Couture, with several models who were breast cancer survivors.

“That first year, Cindy and I did everything,” Lisa Fessler, a breast cancer survivor and a Circle of Hope co-founder, recounted. “We pounded doors, we got donations. It was a huge success … Cindy was so loved.”

The organization also created a wig bank at the Chabad, for which Fessler made the first donation. It is still available to local cancer patients.

Hurricane Sandy hit the hamlet shortly after the dinner, delaying plans and interrupting the excitement. Knoll didn’t back down, however. The community slowly got back on its feet, and the Circle of Hope continued to grow.

Knoll, a connoisseur of cuisine who loved to cook, wanted food to be part of the help that Circle of Hope provides. Cooking was a big part of who she was — preparing a home-cooked meal for her family was always a priority, Chanie Kramer said. She understood how difficult that lifestyle can be to maintain when undergoing cancer treatment.

She started Cooking for Hope at the Chabad, in which students and volunteers prepare meals for local cancer patients. Once a month, the meals are made and stored for families to receive week after week. Knoll was always excited to share her “treasure trove of recipes,” Kramer recalled.

In addition to the wig bank, Circle of Hope expanded last year to include a clothing bank, with specialized clothing for cancer patients. Founded by Loraine Alderman, of East Meadow, the clothing bank now saves patients the added stress of finding the right, comfortable clothing.

Journey for a Purpose returned in subsequent years, with honors for women including a Survivor Award and a Community Service Award. The turnout was consistently in the hundreds.

The support group, which had been catering to women with breast cancer, also grew to accept men and others with any illness. “We thought, it can’t just be about women,” Fessler said. “We wanted to open it up to all people who need our help.”

At the meetings, Knoll was the “ultimate hostess,” Kramer said. “She ran the meetings. Everybody looked up to her … she brought everyone together.”

Other smaller fundraisers were held to support Circle of Hope. The last one Knoll attended before her health deteriorated was Spin for Hope at iSpin in Bellmore, where guests took part in a spin class to raise money.

“She was larger than life,” said Fessler, who attended the event with Knoll.

“She had the gift of bringing out the best in people,” said Joy Jellinek, a childhood friend of Knoll’s who lives in Bellmore. “She understood relationships and people. She did so much for strangers. She touched so many lives — it’s hard to actually describe her.”

At the Chabad, Knoll’s influence will not be forgotten. She helped design the Chabad’s mikvah, which is open to all Jewish women in the community. “She knew how to make things look beautiful,” Kramer said.

“It’s such a great loss,” said Rabbi Kramer. “She’s done so much for the community — she was a close friend and a great partner. She enjoyed seeing other people happy.”

“She is never going to be forgotten,” Chanie Kramer said.