Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Mourning Superman Sam

Yesterday an eight-year-old boy was laid to rest in Glencoe, Illinois. A boy I never met, never spoke to, and yet ... like countless others around the world I felt connected to this boy. I read about his battle with acute myeloid leukemia through blog posts by his parents, both rabbis in the Chicago area. I followed his mother on Twitter and Facebook. I listened and read as mutual friends in the Reform community posted and shared and retweeted Sam's trials and triumphs. My heart ached and swelled with every one. And yesterday, my heart was heavy with grief knowing that over 1,000 mourners had gathered together to say a final goodbye to this beautiful child, Superman Sam.

Am I allowed to grieve, though I did not know him? Am I allowed to feel the pain of such a horrific loss, even though I was not present at that funeral? Can I mourn from afar, through a computer screen, though I never met Sam, or his parents, or his beautiful young siblings, face-to-face?

I cannot begin to fathom what his parents, his siblings, his grandparents and cousins and friends and loved ones, his doctors, his community - those who actually knew him - must be feeling. I cannot comprehend their grief, their pain, or their anguish. Nor can I try to wrap my head around what their lives will be like in the days, weeks, months, and years to come.

But I can raise my voice in support of this family, and the countless others fighting for increased funding of pediatric cancer research.

The rabbis of the Reform Movement are many, but we are all connected to one another. And among the mourners physically present at Sam's funeral were dozens of rabbis and cantors from the Movement, several of whom left Biennial early to stand in solidarity and mourn in person with Sam's family.

Many of those incredible rabbis are currently involved in this fundraising effort: 36 Rabbis Shave for the Brave. The campaign, run through the organization St. Baldricks, has grown and spread and tweeted and Facebooked and blogged and exploded around the country and the world. Rabbis are shaving their heads at the CCAR Convention in Chicago this March in memory of Sam, and I encourage you whole-heartedly to support their effort to raise awareness and funds.

One of the most moving things I read about Sam shortly before his death was that he made sure his money was going to tzedakah; that his legacy would outlast his short eight years. Now, our extended community has an obligation to support his family and his community, Am Shalom in Glencoe, Illinois. (Where my amazing classmate Andrea Rae Markowicz serves as cantor) Please visit their page here to extend your support.

And finally, Jewish tradition teaches us to remember the life and the legacy of those who physically leave us. Judaism teaches us to tell the stories of those we mourn; to remember them not in their death but in the life they led.

Read Sam's story. Be inspired by who he was and what he did in this short time on earth. Connect with and follow the words of his parents, Rabbi Phyllis and Rabbi Michael Sommer, here. Read the countless articles and obituaries written on Sammy.

Ensure that his story lives on.

Each of us is only one person; one tiny speck, one grain of sand, within something so much greater than ourselves. Yet so many of those grains of sand were brought together throughout Sam's illness - through social media, through words and stories and acts of compassion. Through a brave rabbi (my dear friend Rabbi Rebecca Schorr, who you can find here) stepping forward and offering to help organize the fundraising efforts with St. Baldrick's. Through the rabbis of the Reform Movement wearing Superman pins on their lapels throughout Biennial in honor of Sam. Through the mentioning of Sam's passing at Shabbat services on Saturday morning, before 5,000 people.

Though we may only be one, we ones must connect. We ones must multiply. We ones must tell those we know and galvanize our circles to act, to remember, and to care.

Then and only then do we keep Sam's memory alive.

Superman Sam, I did not know you. But you inspired me. Your parents inspire me. And I will share your story, and I will care, and I will mourn - even from afar - to ensure your memory lives on.

Zichrono livracha, may his memory be for blessing.


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