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Shave For The Brave
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The Sommer children, three wearing “Superman Sam” T-shirts. Sammy is second from left. Photo courtesy Rabbi Phyllis Sommer
The Sommer children, three wearing “Superman Sam” T-shirts. Sammy is second from left. Photo courtesy Rabbi Phyllis Sommer

For almost a month, Rabbi Phyllis Sommer of Am Shalom Synagogue near Chicago has known that her 8-year-old son Sammy will die. So right after Thanksgiving, she decided to join a group of her colleagues who have signed up to shave their heads in solidarity with “Superman Sam,” as he has been known since he was diagnosed with leukemia, and other children with cancer.

The rabbis’ goal: 36 “shavees” going under the razor together on March 31 in a “Shave for the Brave” event at the Reform movement’s annual rabbinical convention to benefit childhood cancer research. Those who can’t make it can shave at home in their synagogues; non-Reform rabbis are also welcome to participate.

“The drugs are out of date,” Rabbi Sommer wrote on her Facebook page after deciding to shave her own head. “The treatments are dangerous and the outcomes are beyond unacceptable. I cannot get what I want. Nothing will change it, nothing will give me my ultimate desire. But I can help to change that outcome for someone else. Do it for all the future Sams.”

Nineteen rabbis have signed up to shave so far. Donors have pledged $13,000, and the event’s organizers plan to raise $180,000 for St. Baldrick’s Foundation, a nonprofit based in Monrovia, Calif., that generates awareness about childhood cancer and raises money for research.

The group began as a one-off St. Patrick’s Day party at which attendees shaved their heads to raise money for the cause. It became a nonprofit in 2005 and this year sponsored over 1,400 such events, said spokeswoman Traci Shirk. In addition to raising money, some participants donate the hair they cut off to groups that provide wigs for sick children, she said.

In June, 2012, Sammy was diagnosed with acute myeloid leukemia, in which the bone marrow produces large numbers of abnormal blood cells that flood the bloodstream and invade organs. At the end of August, he received a bone marrow transplant — his last chance at recovery, said Rabbi Rebecca Einstein Schorr, speaking on behalf of the Sommer family. Rabbi Schorr is running the St. Baldrick’s project with Rabbi Elizabeth Wood, of the Reform Temple of Forest Hills, in Queens. (She is also a regular contributor to the Jewish Week’s “New Normal: Blogging Disability.”)

Then, on Nov. 12, a dental check in response to tooth pain revealed signs that the leukemia was back, said Rabbi Schorr. The family — Rabbi Sommer’s husband Michael, who is also a rabbi; their three other children; Phyllis’ parents; Michael’s mother and brother and a dear friend — was on a plane to Israel five days later. Now they’re in Florida on a trip sponsored by the Make-A-Wish Foundation. Other plans of Sammy’s: fireworks shows and ice-skating lessons.

For some, the idea of shaving one’s head is an easy sell — for others, not so much, Rabbi Schorr said. Some are superstitious, and won’t shave their heads lest they tempt fate. Some female rabbis want to participate, but won’t because their husbands don’t even want them to cut their hair, much less shave it off.

Rabbi Sommer has long, thick hair. The shave will also be a way to express her grief: “I am going to shave my head and the whole world will see it. I will not hide my pain.”

To support the rabbis' effort, click here for on their Shave for the Brave campaign page or here for Rabbi Sommer's personal page.

Last Update:

04/13/2015 - 13:37
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A little boy is dying, but some rabbis won't participate because they're superstitious or because their husbands don't like them with short hair? What year is this, 1950? Time to check your egos at the door, rabbis. Your hair will grow back. Sammy (and other kids like him) won't live to see hair as long and luxurious as yours.

What's with " St. Patrick’s Day party "? Is this for real?
Or is it a typo ?

Oh, I get it ,it's reform!
I don't think the young boy would approve if he knew.
May the young one be well.
May his parents grow up.

Which to deal with first, your poor reading comprehension, or the chillul Hashem of your comment? I'll start with the reading comprehension, and save the worse fault for last.

1. There was no reform Saint Patrick's Day party. Rather, St. Baldrick's -- the non-profit that now raises over $30 million a year to combat childhood cancer, began as a one-off St. Paddy's Day party. The event for Sam is being conducted under the foundation's auspices. This was not difficult to figure out if you read carefully.

2. Your reading error is a mere trifle. for all i know, you may have a learning disability, so I'm inclined to let it slide. The real problem is your snide comment "oh, I get it, it's reform," and the callous "may the parents grow up."

The parents you want to grow up will soon lose their beloved son. What kind of heartless goon attacks someone -- be they reform, pagan, any faith or none -- facing that ultimate tragedy? כל ישראל ערבים זה בזה. אהבה לרעך כמוך

How many different ways can the lesson be stated?

I don't care how glatt your kitchen is, your heart and soul are treyf, and you should be ashamed of yourself.

Why do you say כל ישראל ערבים זה בזה. אהבה לרעך כמ and yet fail to direct the family so there is a chance of a good outcome for their son? You are contradicting yourself. There is still hope that he may survive! The prognosis is in the hands of the Al-mighty, whatever the doctors have said, and I am a firm believer the as the Torah says one MUST seek medical treatment for any illness or condition.

By failing to advise them in words that they will understand, to make all reasonable efforts to that effect, you are "idly standing by the blood of your brother'. Leviticus 19:16-18 "do NOT stand idly by the blood of your brother". These people are entrenched in their thinking and NEED to be urged- strangers have more pity than they!

I would like to see the first public acct (as far as I know) of a female "rabbi" do tshuva- what a Kiddush Hashem!
Whatever te circumstances my thoughts are with the little boy , may he have a refuach shelema ASAP!

You say a "one -off" St Patrick's Day party, I say it is "off", however few times it happened.
I didn’t accuse them of attending it, I was shocked to see such an unnecessary reference to something that was essentially irrelevant and un-Jewish.

These people, with a women who pretends to be a rabbi - it is of course against Halacha, what else is there to say. However it must be said as it could save the boy’s life.

And their “hurt” feelings now may be the way to their tshuva soon .
I cannot but feel deep pity for that little boy, who really is in a big fix for several momentous reasons.I certainly hope his parents see their error and in their son's merit do tshuva.

Love God with all your heart. I guess He must be a jealous God, to want Sammy to be with Him so much.

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