Monday, December 16, 2013

Why I Am Shaving My Head


In honor memory of Sam Sommer, Shmuel Asher Uzziel ben haRav Michael Aharon v’haRav Pesach Esther, 8 November 2005-14 December 2013

Monday, December 16, 2013


Sammy’s parents, Phyllis and Michael, were my classmates all the way through rabbinic school, from our first day in Jerusalem to ordination day in Cincinnati. Michael and I met during our interview process on the HUC-JIR campus in Cincinnati. I remember Michael cracking jokes as we chatted nervously before our Hebrew language exam. That was a long time ago. Phyllis was one of the very first people from our class whom I met after arriving in Israel; she was certainly the first to invite me to her home for Shabbat dinner. I can still recall that Shabbat gathering vividly—most of our class was there, and friendships begun that night I cherish to this day.

Phyllis’s gift for convening people into meaningful community was evident from that first encounter. She’s been bringing people together ever since. It’s part of who she is, as a rabbi and a parent and a human being. Because we were classmates, and because she is a generous and virtuosic blogger, and because a handful of times over the years we have seen one another or spoken by phone, I’ve been able to learn a great deal from Phyllis: as a rabbi, a parent, and a human being.

When Sammy was born, I was pregnant with my first child. I’ve watched Phyllis's kids grow up next to mine through the stories and pictures she’s shared online. When Sammy’s cancer was diagnosed, I felt a cold shadow of what it would be like to hear that news about a child of my own. Because it could just as easily be my child, or yours, if you have one. Every day it isn’t my child is a blessing for which I give thanks, but I’m done with gambling.

It’s time to find a cure. For Sammy, who is gone and has left us breathless and broken, and for Phyllis and Michael and Sammy’s siblings and their whole family. For the college acquaintances and neighbors and friends and millions of people I’ll never know whose children have died of cancer, for the people I have known without knowing they’d lost a child to cancer. Yes, for all those, but also for me, and for my child and my parents, and for you, and for all the children and parents now living and still waiting to be born.

Save a life, and you save an entire world. We lost the world this Shabbat, Sammy. Let’s try not to do that again.  

Like the Nazirite offering her hair at the end of her vow, like the captive foreign women who must shave their heads before joining the Jewish community, so I after learning that Sammy’s cancer was incurable, and now upon his death, will make a new start, in a world I would not have chosen, a world without Sammy, a world in which I can no longer pretend that childhood cancer has no dominion over me and my loved ones. That is why I’m shaving my head, and that’s why I’m asking everyone I know to support this cause. The first miracle I was praying for is lost. The next is still within our reach.


1 comment:

  1. Bless you for sharing this beautiful and heartbreaking story. Bless you for your action. Bless you for being you ~

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