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The Jewish Press of Tampa and the Jewish Press of Pinellas County are Independently- owned biweekly Jewish community newspapers published in cooperation with and supported by the Tampa JCC & Federation and the Jewish Federation of Pinellas & Pasco Counties, respectively. Copyright © 2009-2017 The Jewish Press Group of Tampa Bay, Inc., All Rights Reserved.


 

December 13, 2013  RSS feed
Front Page

Text: T T T

Rabbis’ son felled by cancer stirs colleagues to join ‘bald’ effort

By BOB FRYER Jewish Press


During a recent visit by the family to theme parks in Orlando, Rabbi Jason Rosenberg of Tampa’s Congregation Beth Am got to spend some time with Sam Sommer, who did crayon rubbings on a hotel lobby floor. Sam died less than two weeks later. During a recent visit by the family to theme parks in Orlando, Rabbi Jason Rosenberg of Tampa’s Congregation Beth Am got to spend some time with Sam Sommer, who did crayon rubbings on a hotel lobby floor. Sam died less than two weeks later. When Rabbi Jason Rosenberg of Congregation Beth Am in Tampa recently learned that the son of good friends and fellow rabbis was dying of cancer, he felt he had to do something, and quickly joined with more than four dozen other rabbis in an effort to raise funds for pediatric cancer research.

He had heard the virtually hopeless prognosis for “Superman” Sam Sommer, 8-year-old son of Rabbis Michael and Phyllis Sommer of Highwood, IL, and knew it was too late to do anything to help save the child who loved superheroes.

But in a Dec. 11 interview with the Jewish Press, Rabbi Rosenberg explained why he still was working hard to raise funds for research. He said he did not know how much time Sam had left, but he did know this: “I’m sick and tired of people I love losing children to cancer.”


“Superman” Sam Sommer, shown seated, is surrounded by family members during a visit to theme parks in Orlando earlier this month, less than two weeks before he succumbed to cancer at age 8. On his left, younger brother Solomon and at right, sister Yael. Behind him are parents Rabbis Phyllis and Michael Sommer and older brother David. “Superman” Sam Sommer, shown seated, is surrounded by family members during a visit to theme parks in Orlando earlier this month, less than two weeks before he succumbed to cancer at age 8. On his left, younger brother Solomon and at right, sister Yael. Behind him are parents Rabbis Phyllis and Michael Sommer and older brother David. Sadly, Sam died on Saturday, Dec. 14. On learning the news, Rabbi Rosenberg headed to Illinois to attend the funeral. Sam was buried in his favorite Superman pajamas and shirt, along with a Superman blanket, according to the Times of Israel.

“He died peacefully and calmly and quietly at 12:33 a.m.,” Rabbi Phyllis Sommer, wrote on her blog that has tracked her son’s illness.

“He was not in fear or in pain. And for that I am eternally grateful,” she wrote.

Along with his parents, Sam is survived by his siblings, Yael, David and Solomon.

Though Rabbi Rosenberg knew Sam’s parents well, he only met Sam once when the Sommer family visited theme parks in Orlando in early December.

Rabbi Rosenberg visited them there, spending some time with Sam as the youngster did a crayon rubbing of a design on the hotel lobby floor – apparently popular with many kids who stay there.

In a blog post, Rabbi Phyllis Sommer reflected on the encounter: “Our friend Jason sat down next to him and met the real Sam ... for just a few moments. Because he’s truly not himself. He doesn’t talk a lot, and he doesn’t share much of how he’s feeling. He doesn’t want to meet new people or even talk much with the ones he knows and loves. But every so often we see his light shine through.”

The family trip to Orlando was made possible by the Make a Wish Foundation, TODAY.com reported, adding that there was an outpouring of support for the boy when his Chicago-area community learned of his plight.

“The Illinois community rallied around them, creating a group named ‘One Wish, Two Wish, Red Wish, Blue Wish’ to help make ‘Superman’ Sam’s last few months happier and his family’s life easier,” TODAY.com reported. Among the wishes granted was a professional fireworks show.

“Sam was diagnosed about a year and a half ago with AML. He went through chemo, went into remission, relapsed, did more chemo and then a bone marrow transplant,” Rabbi Rosenberg said last week. “About a month ago they learned that the cancer was back, and he’s out of treatment options.”

Rabbi Rosenberg was a ninth grader when he became friends with Michael Sommer and has kept in touch with him over the years through family and friend connections. The bond became tighter when they both wound up becoming rabbis.

Rabbi Rosenberg said the Sommers attended his wedding and he has enjoyed seeing the couple at rabbinical conventions.

When he was asked to join a fundraising campaign called 36 Rabbis Shave for the Brave, Rabbi Rosenberg quickly got onboard.

“This is my little way of fighting back. I’m willing to look incredibly silly (and, I’m sure I will) for a little while if it means that one more parent won’t have to say ‘goodbye’ to their child. Please help me,” he said.

Sam’s mom and one of her close friends, Rabbi Rebecca Schorr, decided to create the “36 Rabbis Shave for the Brave” campaign, Rabbi Rosenberg said. On its blog, the group describes itself as “36 slightly-meshugene, but very devoted rabbis who are yearning to do something.”

The number of rabbis pledging to shave their heads had grown to 51, including about 10 women, by the time of Sam’s death, according to the JTA news service. Eleven other rabbis had agreed to raise funds in other ways.

The rabbis’ effort is being run as part of the larger “Shave for the Brave” fundraiser of the St. Baldricks Foundation. The organization raises awareness and money for research, Rosenberg said, explaining that only 4 percent of federal funding for cancer research is earmarked for childhood cancers, and private companies don’t focus on it, because it’s not as profitable as adult cancer.

The “36 Rabbis Shave for the Brave” fundraiser is ongoing, with each of the participating rabbis aiming to raise $5,000, so they can combine the funds for a total of $180,000 by the time the rabbis meet at a rabbinical convention in Chicago at the end of March.

By Dec. 11, after only about two weeks of seeking donations, Rabbi Rosenberg had raised $3,359 toward his goal of $5,000 and the total for all 36 rabbis stood at just over $70,000.

“We hope to blow by our fundraising goals by the time we get to the convention,” he said. And once at the convention, the rabbis will shave their heads en masse. Rosenberg’s hope is that the public shavings at that venue will bring more attention to the cause.

His message to those reading about his fundraising effort: “Give. You can give because you hate cancer or because you love kids or because you want to see me bald. Just give.”

***

On Friday, Dec. 13, Rabbi Phyllis Sommer, wrote of Sam’s last hours in her blog:

“The house filled up with family and loved ones. Sam slept quietly through it all. Our kiddush wine was salty with tears. The hour grew late … the house emptied out. Around midnight, the last ones left.

I took the first shift and sent Michael up to sleep. I quietly sat down next to him and very very very softly sang his bedtime prayers. Shelter us beneath thy wings … guard us from all harmful things.

He was always terribly impatient with me when I would cry during these prayers. So I made sure not to cry.

Shema Yisrael Adonai Eloheinu Adonai Echad ...

I whispered in his ear … I love you.

And then I settled down beside him on the couch, my hand on his back. Only a few minutes went by. His breathing began to change. There were long pauses between the breaths.

I caught myself holding my breath and the nurse and I exchanged a momentarily-frightened glance. We turned on the lights, we got Michael from upstairs.

We held our child close. He took one final breath … Sam was not alone for a single moment of his life.”

Show your support

Read the family blog about Sam’s battle with cancer at:
SupermanSamuel.blogspot.com.
Learn how St. Baldrick’s Foundation supports pediatric cancer
research at: www.stbaldricks.org
Learn about the Rabbis Shave for the Brave fundraising effort at:
www.stbaldricks.org/events/mypage/10921/2014
Join Rabbi Jason Rosenberg’s team to raise funds at:
www.stbaldricks.org/participants/mypage/660569/2014


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