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Rabbis Shave for the Brave: A Mom’s Perspective

Rabbis Shave for the Brave: A Mom’s Perspective


Cancer patients demonstrate bravery daily as they face a daunting array of scans, infusions, procedures, surgeries as well as an overwhelming regimen of injections and medication. It is all the more horrific when that patient is a child.

On April 1st, the St. Baldrick’s 36 Rabbis Shave for the Brave event will be held in Chicago to raise money for childhood cancer research. This event was initially conceived in honor of “Superman Sam” Sommer, an 8-year-old with acute myeloid leukemia; tragically, it became an event in his memory instead. The original goal of the event, as the name suggests, was to gather 36 rabbis to voluntarily shave their heads to raise money and show solidarity with children who unwillingly lose their hair. Now, more than 60 rabbis and other volunteers will be shaving their heads.

Two of these volunteers, rabbis Max Weiss and Gary S. Gerson, are my own rabbis from Oak Park Temple in Oak Park, IL. Each dollar raised goes toward research to find better ways to treat and cure today’s cancers that are prematurely ending the lives of our children. The looks and comments the volunteers may get once they are bald will provide additional opportunities for them to explain why they have done this and help raise awareness that much more research is needed on childhood cancers.

I am the mother of a child with cancer. My son Shawn is battling metastatic carcinoid cancer. While he just turned 25, and his cancer is not one of the “childhood cancers” that this particular event is targeting, this topic nonetheless touches my family at a very personal level. I have seen firsthand the horror and pain that cancer leaves in its wake. I have stood by helplessly as my son suffers, hoping each day that someone, somewhere, will find some magic that can turn around his cancer’s insidious, destructive path.

I have prayed in waiting room after waiting room after waiting room, in doctor appointments, and during scans and procedures and surgeries. The helplessness is more than a parent should ever have to endure. I would dearly love to think that the research dollars raised for this event will help to prevent future parents from ever having to experience such helplessness and despair, and prevent future young patients from having to withstand such torture.

I would like to extend my own personal thanks to my rabbis and to express my gratitude to all the other participants in this event – those whose heads are being shaved as well as those who are donating. Finally, I’d like to extend my heartfelt sympathy and condolences to the parents of Superman Sam, rabbis Phyllis and Michael Sommer, whose blog has been a tremendous help to me in my own daily struggles.

The Talmud says, “Whoever saves a life, it is considered as if he saved an entire world.” (Mishnah Sanhedrin 4:9; Babylonian Talmud Tractate Sanhedrin 37a). It feels particularly relevant to childhood cancer, as each child is connected to a “world” of people who are also deeply impacted by that child’s disease. I pray that the money and awareness raised by these bald rabbis will help save many such “worlds.”

Sheri Gilley is the president of Oak Park Temple B'nai Abraham Zion in Oak Park, IL. Her son, Shawn Gilley, is a religious school teacher there. 

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