Rabbi Micah Streiffer of Temple Kol Ami in Thornhill and Rabbi Stephen Wise of Shaarei-Beth El Congregation in Oakville participated in a fundraising initiative called Shave for the Brave April 1 at the annual Reform rabbinical convention in Chicago.
Seventy-four Reform rabbis from across North America took part in the shave, inspired by rabbis Phyllis and Michael Sommers’ eight-year-old son, “Superman Sam,” a nickname he acquired during his brave fight against cancer.
“Superman Sam” was diagnosed in June 2012 with acute myeloid leukemia and died on Dec. 14.
The participating rabbis have raised almost $600,000 for St. Balderick’s Foundation, a charity committed to funding the most promising research on childhood cancers.
“My young cousin, Olivia Wise, recently passed away. When I heard that ‘Superman Sam’ had died, that hit close to home. We are a very tight-knit community, and I wanted to pay tribute to my cousin, Olivia, and to Sam, as well.
“I was nervous about shaving my head, but I think that is why this works because it is something you don’t normally do – it was an opportunity for all of us to do something out of our comfort zone,” Rabbi Wise said.
“For me, shaving my head was the least I could do to recognize the pain and the bravery of these extraordinary people [rabbis Phyllis and Michael Sommer] who went though this, and of this wonderful, amazing child whose life was lost far too early,” said Rabbi Streiffer.
The shave was watched by several hundred rabbis following their evening program. The participating rabbis were given green St. Balderick T-shirts – though some chose to wear Superman T-shirts – as well as a specially designed kippah.
“The cameras were rolling, as was a live stream [people as far away as Israel were watching]. The rabbis were called up on stage. Sam’s parents spoke to the crowd about how much money had been raised and how meaningful this was to them. Eight barbers from the Chicago area rolled out plastic across the stage and pulled out their clippers and started shaving us while hundreds of rabbis were cheering and clapping,” Rabbi Wise said.
“Superman Sam was the inspiration, but everybody there had a story of someone they knew affected by childhood cancer.”
According to the Childhood Cancer Canada Foundation, about 10,000 children are living with cancer in Canada. Each year, about 1,500 cases are diagnosed. Leukemia as well as tumors of the brain and nervous system, lymphatic system, kidneys, bones and muscles are the most common childhood cancers.
Cancers are responsible for more childhood deaths in this country than any other disease – more than asthma, diabetes, cystic fibrosis and AIDS combined. About one in four children who are diagnosed with cancer will die of the disease.
Rabbi Streiffer told The CJN about his new bald look.
“My head is cold and I am having a little trouble keeping a kippah on my head. People have suggested double-stick or superglue,” he said.
“On the other hand, it’s very conspicuous, and it has given me an opportunity to talk to people about this cause. When someone comes up to me and asks, ‘Why are you bald?’ suddenly it gives me the opportunity to let them know why I did this and why this cause was important, and why I participated in this initiative.”