Shalom Life | February 27, 2015

Shave for the Brave Campaign Will Go On in Memory of 'Superman Sam'

8-year-old Sam Sommer, who inspired the 36 Rabbis Shave for the Brave initiative, died peacefully on Saturday; the campaign founded by his mother will continue to raise awareness and funding for cancer research

By: Zak Edwards & Daniel Koren

Published: December 16th, 2013 in News » World

In June 2012, at the tender age of seven, Sam Sommer was diagnosed with leukemia; less than a month ago, his parents were told that there was nothing more that doctors could do to save him.

Just before she learned of the news, Sammy’s mother, reform rabbi Phyllis Sommer, alongside fellow rabbi Rebecca Schorr, came up with an intriguing idea: what if they could get together some of their fellow rabbis and all shave their heads to raise money and awareness for childhood cancer research?

Rabbi Sommer was already in the midst of promoting awareness of the cause with the blog named for her son: 'Superman Sam'.

In honor of Sammy, the two rabbis fronted the 36 Rabbis Shave for the Brave initiative, a fundraising campaign through St. Baldrick’s that is hoping to raise $180, 000 for childhood cancer research.

I arranged to speak to Rabbi Sommer on Friday, December 13th to discuss Shave for the Brave's origins, its success, and what they are hoping to accomplish before they lose their locks in March.

I was grief-stricken to discover the following day that Sammy had died that night, peacefully, at home, with his parents at his side. Following his death, Schorr told the Times of Israel that the campaign will go on as planned, and that Sammy will still be the guest of honour, in memoriam.


(Phyllis and Sam Sommer)

“I was talking with Rebecca in October and she said, ‘Gee, maybe it’s time I shaved my hair and do a St. Baldrick’s fundraiser,’” Sommer said during our interview. “I said we should get our rabbi colleagues and friends on board. Rebecca said, ‘Why not 36?’”

She went on to explain that the numbers surrounding the campaign are significant. “We really like 36 for a number of reasons,” she said. “First, it’s a double 18, which of course means chai. Second, there is a tradition in the Talmud about 36 righteous individuals that are so righteous and important that they world exists because of them. Without these individuals, called the Lamed Vav Tzadikim, the entire world would not exist. But, because they are so humble and righteous, they don’t even know that they are so important.”

“So many people aren’t given the opportunity to do a truly righteous act, something that’s really selfless and righteous and amazing,” she added.

So, Sommer and Schorr had set out to recruit their fellow rabbis around the United States for the fundraising drive, done for the St. Baldrick’s Foundation that “organizes shaves around the world” and has raised over $10 million since 2005 in its search to find cures for kids with cancer. “There is no St. Baldrick, it’s a combination of the words ‘bald’ and ‘St. Patrick’” Sommer explained to me.

“They have a scientific advisory board that ensures the money raised goes to the right people.”

Shave for the Brave, in memory of 8-year-old Superman Sam, is raising money specifically for childhood cancer research, which looks to solve challenges facing treating kids. “Only 4% of money earmarked for cancer research in the States goes to childhood cancer,” Sommer told me. “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.”

Some treatments have even been linked to raising kids’ chances of getting deadly cancer later in life. “Chemotherapy can actually lead to other cancers later in life, so more research needs to be done for the exact type of treatments without putting them more at risk, to do more good than harm,” explained Sommer. Such risks include future cancer, impeded growth, and infertility.

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