April 19, 2024 -

Shave for the Brave

In this article below, which is featured in the March Bulletin, Rabbi Caruso shares why he is going to “Shave for the Brave.” We encourage you to comment below, to share or post it widely so as to engender conversation on the valuable topics it raises for us in the temple community and in the Jewish community in general.


I am going bald. I promise I’ll explain, but first a little background…

About a year and a half ago, a colleague of mine shared the devastating news that her eight-year-old son, Samuel – nicknamed Superman Sam – had Acute Myeloid Leukemia (AML). Sammy’s mom, Rabbi Phyllis Sommer, created a blog called Superman Sam that chronicled the family’s experiences through the eyes of this mother of four.  I followed the blog, sharing Phyllis’ hopefulness near the beginning of Sam’s journey when the family found a bone marrow donor. When the transplant eventually failed, his doctors were forced to recommend palliative care for Superman Sam.  One of the most heart-wrenching posts describes Sammy’s reaction to being told that he is not going to get better and that, in fact, he has little time left.  It says, in part:

I don’t want to die!

I want to grow up and marry someone!
I want to learn to drive!
I want to have a Bar Mitzvah!
I want to see David (Sammy’s older brother) be President!
I want to see Dad get old and wear diapers!

How will you live without me?

How will David and Yael and Solly live without me?
How will I live without you?

What will I do without you? 

Where will I be? 

You’re going to put me in a box and put me in the ground.
I’ll never get to do all the things I want to do.
Why did I have to get cancer when I was just a kid before I got to do things?

I want to do something amazing.

In her reply, Sammy’s mom told her son, “Oh, Sammy. You already have.”

After Sammy died on Dec. 14, 2013, Phyllis wanted to do something that would allow his memory to keep doing something amazing. She and another colleague conceived of “Shave for the Brave”, an initiative directed though St. Baldrick’s Foundation, an organization that funnels 100% of its funds to fighting pediatric cancer. Phyllis’ plan was to raise $180,000 by finding 36 rabbis who would each raise at least $5,000 by shaving their heads in solidarity with cancer patients who lose their hair.

Although I never met Superman Sam, experiencing the pain, despair, and anger of Sammy and his family as they shared their terrible journey left me wanting to do something to help.  I pledged to be one of the 36 rabbis and will shave my head at the end of March. Yes, I am going bald, and am deeply grateful to those of you who have made generous donations to support my effort. I have already raised over $6,200, and am now hoping to reach $7,500. The response to the effort as a whole has been overwhelming.  Eighty three rabbis have now committed to shaving their heads and over $300,000 has been raised!

In addition to honoring Sammy’s memory, my participation in this effort hits even closer to home. We have a little girl in our own temple community who I pray will benefit from crucial research to find a cure for pediatric cancers. Rebecca Meyer, the five-year-old daughter of our members, Kat and Eric Meyer, is bravely battling a brain tumor.  Rebecca told me that doctors had to take a rock out of her brain, and then destroy that rock so she could get well.   We can only hope that those rocks will be gone for good.  www.facebook.com/TeamBeccaOhio

In a way, shaving my head is a prayer—a prayer to acknowledge the hardships that families touched by cancer endure, to honor the memories of those lost, to stand with the survivors, to offer gratitude for the good health of family members, and to raise awareness and funds so that others stricken by this disease might live. Perhaps if we work together, these prayers might be answered. To support this project, click here or  call St. Baldrick’s at 888-899-2253 and let them know you would like to support Rabbi Caruso’s efforts.

Rabbi Joshua Caruso (Jcaruso@fairmounttemple.org)