Today would have been Superman Sam’s 9th birthday if childhood cancer hadn’t taken his life last December. Today, give $9 for Sam’s birthday to the 36 Rabbis, which was founded by Sam’s mom and a friend, and have your gift matched. Sam’s mom reflects on his birthday, the reality of losing a child to cancer, and the opportunity to reach $1 million raised for St. Baldrick’s.
Superman Sam would have been 9 years old today.
I’ve always been a really voracious reader, and as I reminded my 9th graders the other day, the pickings were far slimmer in the kids’ and young adults’ department of bookstores when I was younger. So I was always scanning bookshelves for things that looked interesting to me.
I remember being young, maybe 9 or 10, when I discovered a slim volume on the shelf at my aunt and uncle’s house. It was short, which didn’t bode well for me, since I tended at that point to pick books by their length. But there was something compelling about the cover. Alex: The Life of a Child, it was called, and there was a beautiful little girl on the front — her picture slightly fuzzy and black and white. I remember reading it cover to cover, and crying big blotchy tears. And then I remember reading it over and over again.
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.
Michael and Sam in Israel last November.
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.
Start a Do What You Want fundraiser and help cure childhood cancer!
Sam was diagnosed with acute myeloid leukemia when he was 6.
Superman Sam Sommer showed us all what a true superhero looks like. In 2012, Sam was diagnosed with acute myeloid leukemia. This past November, at 8 years old, Sam lost his battle with leukemia — but not before proving that he did indeed have super powers.
Super Power 1: The Power to Bring People Together
Not only did Superman Sam rally more than 50 Reform Rabbis to shave their heads in support of St. Baldrick’s, but his powers reached all the way to West Coast Party, our biennial three-day retreat for teens from all over the West Coast.
For Sam, losing his hair was a big deal at first. I think it was more the idea of the change rather than the actual hair loss. It changed how he looked, and it changed how people looked at him. Throughout his treatment, he was mostly bald, and then as it grew back after treatment, we noticed and celebrated.
Our hearts broke at the St. Baldrick’s Foundation when we learned that Sam Sommer died last weekend.Most of us knew him as Superman Sam, the 8-year-old boy who inspired a group of rabbis to commit to shaving their heads at their annual rabbinic convention in Chicago this March to raise money for pediatric cancer research.
Many of us followed his story on his family’s blog. We knew Sam was diagnosed with acute myeloid leukemia (AML), a cancer of the blood, in June 2012. We knew he fought it hard and underwent a bone marrow transplant in August 2013. We knew his parents learned the transplant had failed on November 12, just two weeks after his mom and her friend conceived of the 36 Rabbis Shave for the Brave.
“Five hundred and twenty days ago we were told, ‘Your son has cancer.’ I never thought I could feel more pain than that day,” Sam’s mom, Rabbi Phyllis Sommer, wrote after she received the news that Sam’s cancer was terminal. “I was wrong.”
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