“Shave for the Brave” started in the year 2000 and now has more than 1300 events around the world. Now, a collection of more than 60 reform rabbis got together to shave their heads to raise money for pediatric cancer research. They met at the 125th annual Conference of American Rabbis at the Fairmont Chicago Millennium Park to support St. Baldrick.
The story began with Rabbi Phyllis and Michael Somner, whose eight year old son Sam died of leukemia in December. Phyllis is an associate rabbi at Am Shalom in Glencoe, Illinois and when his mother first considered doing a “shave” in 2012, her sick son rejected it.
Then, in October of 2013, Sam was hospitalized and Phyllis asked a friend, Rebecca Einstein Schorr, if maybe she should shave her head. And her friend replied, “What if a whole group of us do it?”
Together, Sommer and Schorr thought of the idea of a “36 Rabbis Shave for the Brave” event at the CCAR conference. When Sam relapsed in November, even more rabbis took up the cause, and they have so far raised $455,000 toward a goal of $540,000.
“We all felt the hopelessness of this horrible reality,” said Schorr. “These two loving, amazing parents had to tell their 8-year-old son that there was nothing more the doctors could do. There seemed to be something out of what we humans perceive as the natural order and part of what galvanized so many of our colleagues was the notion that as one collective religious voice we could make a stand (and say), ‘We don’t want to bury any more children who are dying from something that if there was enough funding available to help find appropriate treatment, they wouldn’t have to die.”
As Rabbi Isaac Serotta of Lakeside Congregation for Reform Judaism in Highland Park said, “We are doing it in Sam’s memory and in memory of so many others who have lost their lives to childhood cancer, including my own brother, Paul.”
As Sommer said,
“Sammy died approximately 100 days ago,” she said. “I am forever changed, yet I look exactly the same. I’m anticipating a new wave of grief accompanied by, possibly, a feeling of relief that finally my outside appearance in some way matches my changed inside. People have told me that what I’m doing is ‘brave’ and ‘powerful.’ I feel neither of those things, but I fully ascribe to the ‘fake it ’til you make it’ school of behavior, so perhaps when I shave my head, the brave and powerful feelings will follow.”