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Shave for the Brave: A “Magical” Moment

I was thinking so much about Sammy this past Purim.  He was a kid who loved all things fun and magical and creative.  One of the things I learned early on with Sammy is that you have to have a gimmick with him in order to get “in” to his world.  He loved jokes and so we were able to connect a little bit over humor.  He loved Angry Birds, and so I was thankful when I learned I could get him to sit on my lap if I handed him my phone with Angry Birds already open and ready for him to play with.  He  also LOVED magic.

I’ve known Sammy since the day he arrived.  His parents are some of my best friends and I was there a few days after he was born.  I remember it like it was yesterday – I walked into their home and crept up slowly to the sleeping newborn, just to get a peek of him.  Suddenly, like magic (or my loud footsteps) he awoke and shined those bright eyes on me. It was a great moment.  And there were many great moments to follow.  Until, the not-so-great moments came.

Sammy Magic 2After Sammy’s cancer relapsed in 2013, I went to go visit him, in May, at the hospital.  Determined to bring a little something that I thought would brighten Sammy’s day, I came into the room with my bag full of tricks.  Literally!  I brought Sammy some magic tricks with lights and balls and bags.  But, the thing he loved the most, that day, was the Magic Hat I brought him from FAO Schwartz.  He could even pull a stuffed bunny out of the hat!!! It all brought a smile to Sammy’s face that I will never forget. It looked like my work as “Auntie Liz” was done!

Sadly, it was not.  I was there a few days after Sammy was born and I was there the day after Sammy died, in December.  I sat and cried with my friends and family and their family who are like my own family. I helped David, Sammy’s brother, buy clothes for the funeral.   I helped carry Sammy’s body, through the cold and snow, at the cemetery to help bury Sammy and say goodbye to his physical presence.  It was the greatest honor I could have, as his Auntie Liz, to be there for him, even when he was no longer there.

We are still here for Sammy, and we are here for many, many other families that are struggling with the pain associated with pediatric cancer.  While Sammy was sick, there were so many people from around the world that were touched by the Sommer’s story and their blog.  Everyone wanted to help, but really didn’t know what to do.  Well, now there is something that is being done.  Phyllis Sommer and Rebecca Einstein Schorr decided that they could convince 36 Rabbis to shave their heads and raise funds for pediatric cancer research, in honor of Sammy’s memory.  The “shave” is being run through the St. Baldrick’s foundation and is taking place on April 1st at the CCAR convention in Chicago, IL – Sammy’s hometown.  The intention was to raise $180,000 from 36 rabbis.  But so many people signed on that we have almost 100 people who have raised more than $420,000 for this event.  It’s almost like, magic….

And that moment, at the Shave on April 1st will truly be magical.  We will watch as Sammy’s parents, Michael and Phyllis, shave their heads.  We will watch as other Rabbis, men and women, shave their heads in honor of Sammy’s memory and in honor of so many other kids out there who struggle every day.  We will watch, in these next few weeks, as our numbers of dollars raised continue to rise and rise and rise.  I am so proud of what my colleagues have done and I am so proud to help be an event organizer for this special and magical moment.  But, most of all, I am proud that I got to know and love Sammy, that I got to be his Auntie Liz, and that he has inspired so many people to continue to work their own magic, in the world.

Sammy and Liz

Rabbi Elizabeth S. Wood serves The Reform Temple of Forest Hills, NY.

CCAR Convention Rabbis Social Justice

Why I am Shaving My Head: Shave for the Brave

Beginning on April 1st our community will have a bald rabbi, at least for a little while, as I will be participating with about 60 of my colleagues in a fundraiser to raise awareness of and funds to combat childhood cancers. We are participating as a rabbinic community in a St. Baldrick’s event which will take place at our annual CCAR rabbinic convention. While it is a public event, it feels deeply personal. Every day when I awake I give thanks that I and my family are healthy and well. I give thanks with the humility that comes from knowing that our good fortune is not shared by every family in our community. I suppose that there is inside of most rabbis a recognition that while we are able to walk with families in their pain there is little we can do to prevent it.

I am allowing my head to be shaved because there is so little else I can do. I am not a big fan of personal public spectacle except on Purim. The idea of sitting on a stage while my head is shaved makes my stomach turn. For Jews head shaving is biblically symbolic of outrageous grief and it is historically connected to the utter horror so many in our community suffered through during the Shoah. I know that for the St. Baldrick’s foundation head shaving symbolizes solidarity and connection with those who lose their hair to cancer treatments. It is different for me and I suspect for many of the rabbis I am participating with in this campaign.

I am allowing my head to be shaved out of frustration, and helplessness, and grief, and pain from seeing too many children suffer and some die from cancer. Frankly and honestly I am allowing my head to be shaved as a small gesture to raise awareness and money for research to combat childhood cancers. The fact that I cannot save these children or spare their families from fathomless pain does not allow me to do nothing. So, I am shaving my head to raise a little bit of money to help fund cancer research so that as a society we may one day reach a point where families like  Michael and Phyllis Sommer’s no longer have to mourn the premature death of a child and so that families like Lee Kantz and Rebekah Cowing’s are able to find a speedy cure for their nephew Ben.

So, do not worry when you see me without hair. I am fine. I am shaving my head because many other families are not. If you would like to donate please do so here.

Rabbi Max Weiss serves Oak Park Temple in Oak Park, IL