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Rabbi and his wife don dancing shoes for Montreal Children’s Hospital

Rabbi Reuben Poupko and Mindy Shear, with her son, Shalev.

Only a compelling cause like improving the lives of sick children could have convinced Rabbi Reuben Poupko to get up and dance in front of a live audience.

The rabbi and his wife, Mindy Shear, are participating in this year’s Just for Kids (JFK) Foundation Dancing With the Stars gala on Feb. 12 at Le Windsor Ballrooms. They will be performing a hip-hop number under the guidance of a professional dancer.

“I had to be cajoled into this,” professed Rabbi Poupko, the spiritual leader of the Beth Israel Beth Aaron Congregation in Montreal.

Shear took a little less persuading, as she has always loved to dance, although her dancing days were well behind her when she took up the fundraising challenge. “These days, it’s usually just at a wedding, here and there,” she said.

Both of them know the anxiety of being parents of children with serious medical issues, and are ever grateful for the care they received at the Montreal Children’s Hospital (MCH), the beneficiary of the annual JFK event.

One of Rabbi Poupko’s sons was born with trigonocephaly, a condition in which the two bone plates in the forehead are fused, which prevents the brain from developing normally. At four months, he underwent a successful surgery to treat the condition at the MCH.

Today, he is 29 and a rabbi, who’s married and the father of two – and healthy.

Shear’s experience is more recent. Her now-nine-year-old-son Shalev Shear Yaacov was born prematurely at 32 weeks at the Jewish General Hospital (JGH) and spent a month in the neonatal intensive care unit.

Shalev needed medical attention over the next few years, which meant that he was in and out of the MCH, she said, adding that the treatment and staff were excellent.

Shalev, who attends Hebrew Academy, is doing well, even if he’s somewhat smaller than the other boys his age, she said.

Since the age of four, he has been raising awareness and funds on World Prematurity Day (Nov. 17), by speaking at his school and at the JGH. “He writes his own speeches,” said his mother. “He’s very passionate, very compassionate.”

The couple is endeavouring to raise $10,000 for JFK.

Only for a wonderful cause and organization like this would I subject myself to this public humiliation.
– Rabbi Reuben Poupko

In the months leading up to the event, they have been rehearsing with instructor and choreographer Ngone Gueye, who has developed a routine and musical score with them. It will have a Jewish flavour, but beyond that, it’s a surprise.

Gueye will be on stage with the Poupkos at the gala, which is a modelled after the TV reality series.

The whole endeavour has not been easy for the couple, as they both lead busy lives.

Rabbi Poupko is one of the most visible leaders of the Montreal Jewish community. Besides being a rebbetzin, Shear runs a health and beauty business, and is active in other charitable causes. She’s best known as a makeup specialist and has had many local entertainment, fashion and media personalities as clients.

In other words, Shear knows how to present one’s best face to the world. Her husband, not so much.

“I’m more of a prop than a partner,” he said of his role in the dance number, reluctant to even comment that much.

“Only for a wonderful cause and organization like this would I subject myself to this public humiliation,” he added, only half joking.

The Montreal Children’s Hospital JEAN GAGNON PHOTO

JFK was founded in 1987 by a small group of parents whose children were receiving care at the MCH.

This is the 12th JFK Dancing With the Stars gala. It will pit the Poupkos against more than 20 other dancers, both individuals and groups, in light-hearted competition.

This year’s theme is “Viva Las Vegas,” and the entertainment includes Elvis impersonators and showgirls. The show, which includes a silent auction, will be preceded by a cocktail dînatoire and an open bar.

Fashion mogul Sal Parasuco, 12-time Canadian ballroom champion Pierre Allaire and dance studio owner Giulia Tripoli will judge the competition. The winners will go home with the JFK mirror ball trophy.

The goal is to raise $500,000 to purchase medical equipment for the MCH’s neonatal intensive care unit, as well as its neurosurgery and craniofacial surgery departments.

JFK also continues to fund two new projects: the JFK Sibling Park, where the brothers and sisters of children being treated in the intensive- or acute-care units can play and learn, while their parents are occupied; and the JFK Kangaroo Care program, which trains neonatal nurses in skin-to-skin contact, which helps infants and their parents bond.

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