Open Arms, Open Hearts: Superman Sam’s Dad Prepares to Shave with the 36 Rabbis

by Michael Sommer
April 1, 2014

Today, 74 Reform rabbis are going bald at the 36 Rabbis Shave for the Brave, a St. Baldrick’s head-shaving event inspired by Sam Sommer. Rabbi Michael Sommer has been growing his hair since Sam died on December 14, 2013, and he shares his thoughts before the shave.

Sam and Michael on the beach

Michael and Sam in Israel last November.

A piece of me is crumbled inside like a building gutted in a fire. I find myself walking around the wreckage looking for pieces of what was.

In the charred ruins, I find images and memories of days of laughter and revelry. Then I turn around and see all the rest of my existence, whole and intact — children that need to be dressed, fed, and prepared for school in the morning; games that need to be played; piano to be practiced; movies to watch. All the pieces of a life that Sam’s death left intact.

All these pieces of life remind me why I keep breathing, why I carry on and am capable of doing what needs to be done.

Pictures, memories, and reading Phyllis’s writing bring tears streaming down my cheeks, and I let them fall. I allow myself to feel all the reality of my pain because I know how unhealthy the alternative is for me, mentally and physically. So I walk through the hole in my soul and look at all the memories and pictures. I look at all the things that currently make me cry, knowing someday they will make me cry less. Someday I will just cherish them for what they are, the precious gems Sammy left me to remind me how good life was and how good it can be.

Sam and family while Sam was in treatment for pediatric AML

Sam and his family in the hospital while Sam was in treatment for pediatric acute myeloid leukemia.

Now I prepare to spend a week with all my rabbis — the rabbis I call friend-family, who have known me since my youth, since graduate school, since Sammy was born, since Sammy got sick, since Sammy died. I’m prepared to have my head shaved with nearly a Sanhedrin of rabbis (71 of the wisest rabbis during the Second Temple Period).

My work raising funds for pediatric cancer research stands completed for the moment before I begin fundraising for next week, next month, next year. We scratched the surface so well this time. Maybe next time we will aim for a million dollars, or even a daring $1.8 million. We have the will, we have the way, we have communities who believe in what we believe: that no child or family should ever experience what we and so many like us have experienced.

Michael with young Sam and brother David

Michael with Sam, right, and his brother David before Sam was diagnosed with childhood cancer.

It is time for my hair to be gone. It is time to become invisible again, my new “normal” self, a fitting moment to remove the visible sign of my grief in such a public manner.

People ask how I will handle it. I respond that my walls are strong when I need them to be. They are always close at hand when I need something to press against to keep myself standing. I will also be surrounded by a wall of love and a sea of open arms and hearts.

As a couple, Phyllis and I will be embraced beyond our expectations. As a community, we will embrace each other, pray together, and heal together toward a future where pain such as this is but a historical memory. May Sammy’s memory strengthen the glue that binds us as one and fuel our determination to eradicate childhood cancer in our lifetimes of mending the world and making it a better place.

To donate toward Michael’s fundraising goal, go to his participant page and click “DONATE.”

Help cure childhood cancer. Get involved.


Read more about Superman Sam and the 36 Rabbis: