How Our Rabbi is Helping Kids With Cancer - and How You Can Join Him
In the middle of August 2013, in the space of three days, far from home and without any warning, our 5-year-old daughter Rebecca went from playing on the beach to the literal brink of death. The symptoms we thought were caused by a bout of vacation-induced strep throat were actually caused by the tumor of a rare and aggressive type of brain cancer. She was life-flighted to The Children's Hospital of Philadelphia (CHOP), where she spent two weeks recovering from the three brain surgeries required to remove the tumor and relieve the pressure in her skull.
It’s all right if you can’t imagine what that was like for us. In truth, we can’t imagine it ourselves, despite having lived it. It’s too enormous and overwhelming to be understood. To make the whole situation even more overwhelming, we were living in her hospital room, 500 miles from home, with the family split in half: Our other children returned to Cleveland to live with relatives while they started their school years and tried to live as normal a life as possible.
As Rebecca regained strength, our rabbi, Joshua Caruso, flew from Cleveland to visit us at CHOP. We didn’t ask him to; in all honesty, it hadn’t even occurred to us to ask. He just did it, knowing that seeing another familiar, friendly face would give us strength. We had been visited by the hospital’s rabbi, of course, but to have someone we knew and trusted come to see us was a boon beyond words.
The smile on Rebecca's face when she first saw Rabbi Josh could have lit up a city block. Maybe she knew she was about to wipe the floor with him playing Candy Land – though, it must be admitted, her creatively flexible approach to the game’s rules may have helped her a bit. Rabbi Josh also took my wife and me out to dinner (another friend was there to be with Rebecca) so we could talk openly, without fear of scaring our daughter with the fear we still felt, and take a few minutes away from the whole situation to try to process, even just a little bit, what we were going through.
When we heard that Rabbi Josh would participate in Shave for the Brave, a rabbinic effort to raise awareness of pediatric cancer and funding for research, we were deeply touched. When we found out he was doing it in Rebecca’s name, we were humbled. The example he set inspired our 10-year-old daughter, Carolyn, to shave her own head, raising more than $8,000 in donations for the St. Baldrick’s Foundation along the way. When we shared the news that Carolyn would be shaving her hair, Rabbi Josh’s immediate response was, “Tell Carolyn her rabbi is very proud of her.”
It’s one thing to have a rabbi who cares for his congregants, but it’s another, much better thing to have a rabbi who is a mensch through and through. That's Rabbi Josh: a mensch among mensches. We couldn’t be prouder to know him and support his efforts for our daughter and all children dealing with cancer. And we’re really looking forward to the day that Rebecca sees him bald. Her smile will light up an entire city.
It’s thanks to the efforts of past generations that our daughter has been able to live in health and full of joy, months past the day that she almost died. The research done, and the funds raised to make that research possible, have resulted in the treatments that may one day help children with cancer get back to being full-time kids. It’s up to us to do the same for future generations. It gives us comfort and strength to know that so many people are working toward that goal.