Shalom Life | April 07, 2014

Rabbis' Head-Shavings for 'Superman Sam' Raises Near $600k

Approximately 60 rabbis, both male and female, shaved their heads as part of the 'Shave for the Brave' campaign with funds going towards pediatric cancer research

By: Daniel Koren

Published: April 3rd, 2014 in Health » World

On Friday, December 13th, we spoke to Rabbi Phyllis Sommers about her son Sam, who was dying from leukemia, about the campaign her and her friend started to raise money for pediatric cancer research, called '36 Rabbis Save for the Brave'. Sommers was documenting her efforts, and on her son's condition, via a blog she started called 'Superman Sam'.

We were grief-stricken to learn the following day that young Sam had passed away.

“Only 4% of money earmarked for cancer research in the States goes to childhood cancer,” Sommers said during our interview. “This means that kids are being treated with protocols that are two decades old or given medication based on research done on adult bodies. Kids' bodies are different, they are still developing and they’re smaller than adult bodies.”

“We hope to prevent another family being told that the doctors can’t do anything, that there’s no hope,” she added.

After Sam's passing, the campaign gained momentum, with several more rabbis and members of the community expressing interest in getting involved any way they could.

Finally two days ago, on Tuesday April 1st, 2014, the campaign inspired by Superman Sam came to fruition, with more than twice the amount of rabbis that were originally expected (73), both male and female, shaving their heads at the Reform movement's Central Conference of American Rabbis convention in Chicago.

The campaign raised $570,000 (originally Sommers' goal was to raise $180,000) with all proceeds going to pediatric cancer research.

Most, if not all, of the shavees were there to pay tribute to Superman Sam, and to pay their respects to his parents Phyllis and Michael Sommers. The event was done in partnership with St. Baldrick's Foundation, a group that funds pediatric cancer research.

Mayyim Hayyim, a mikvah in Boston, took part in the event as well, by creating a series of blessings for those who'd take part in a mikvah before shaving their head for a charitable purpose, yet another new initiative inspired by Sommers' campaign, and her son Sam.

“What’s exciting is it’s a whole new way of thinking about what mikvah can do in our secular lives," said Carrie Bornstein, Executive Director of Mayyim Hayyim, to JTA. "There’s a whole religious component, the fact that they are doing this as rabbis, to this very secular occurrence. The idea of marking something in that way and being conscious of the transitions going on in our lives was very exciting.”

The Shave for the Brave event, the first Jewish version of the many put on by St. Baldrick's Foundation (they were founded in 2000) raised more money for the foundation than any single event before.

“Of the sixty or so shavees, some who knew Sammy and the Sommers well, others just met them, yet we all feel we know them well,” said one of the shavees, Rabbi Charles Briskin. “Last night, however, we were all part of one extended family, sitting, shaving, crying and laughing in solidarity.”

Afterwards, he added, “we just hugged one another, admired our new looks, and of course rubbed one another’s heads.”

Photo Caption: Rabbis get their heads shaved at the CCAR convention in Chicago

Photo Credit: Julie Pelc Adler, JTA

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