(RNS) Prompted by the death of a colleague’s son, more than 50 rabbis shaved their heads Tuesday (April 1) to raise money for pediatric cancer research.
The “Shave for the Brave” event, which has so far raised $550,000 of the rabbis’ $613,000 goal, took place in Chicago at the 125th annual convention of the Central Conference of American Rabbis, a gathering of Reform rabbis.
Rabbi Rebecca Einstein Schorr of Pennsylvania came up with the idea after 8-year-old Sam Sommer, the son of her colleague Rabbi Phyllis Sommer, was hospitalized in October due to complications from advanced leukemia.
When Sam died two months later, the event morphed from an act of solidarity with Sam and his family to a memorial.
Tuesday’s Shave-a-thon is one of many such events that support St. Baldrick’s Foundation, an organization that raises money for childhood cancer research, which receives relatively little of the money earmarked for cancer research overall.
Rabbi Eric Siroka, a rabbi at Temple Beth El in South Bend, Ind., said he was inspired by “the brave way Sam Sommer faced his cancer. I know it is my responsibility to help raise funds for research and treatment; more so, I am honored that we have clearly elevated the awareness of how important it is to increase the efforts to fight childhood disease.”
Phyllis Sommer, who has chronicled her son’s illness and her family’s struggle after his death in the blog Superman Sam, said the event resonates deeply with the rabbis’ Jewish values:
“Judaism teaches us that we must not be silent in the face of injustice, and that we are obligated to speak out and make a difference. When confronted with the inequality of funding for childhood cancer research, we are standing up to do something. Helping those in need is an important tenet of Jewish teaching.”
Although “nothing can bring back Sam, as much as we wish it could,” Sommer said, “knowing that we have the love of so many friends has brought us incredible comfort. As I stumble and fall through this grieving process, they are the people on whose shoulders I lean.”
YS/AMB END CHABIN