Sunday, December 15th
39,000 ft over Utah
The tweet read, “Distance is Just a Test to See How Far Friendship Can Travel.” It was a message from Virgin America customer support in response to my tweet thanking them for their help getting a last minute flight to Chicago. Now I am sitting on that very flight and those words keep ringing in my ears.
Distance can test friendships, but it is the most minor of tests when those friendships are filled with love, care and mutual support. Yet in times of tragedy and sorrow, distance can become an achingly wide chasm. Your friends are hurting and you simply want to be by their side offering your love, your hugs, your support and your help. Twitter and texts, Facebook and phone calls all help bridge the gap, but sometimes you just need to be there.
So instead of making my way home to New Jersey following the Union for Reform Judaism Biennial Convention in San Diego, I made a few last minute changes and I am heading for Chicago to be with my friends, Rabbi Phyllis and Rabbi Michael Sommer.
I first met Phyllis and Michael at a conference in Israel and they quickly became not just colleagues, but very dear friends. At the time Phyllis was best known for her blog, Ima on (and off) the Bimah (imabima.blogspot.com). She is, in many ways, the one person most responsible for my professional embrace of social media, especially twitter.
A year and a half ago, social media became Phyllis and Michael’s place for sharing a unimaginable challenge that was enveloping their family life. Through their blog, Superman Sam (supermansamuel.blogspot.com), (which many of you have followed) they have chronicled their 8 year-old son’s journey through the dark land of childhood cancer and the moments of light that were brought to bear against that choking darkness.
Sam was diagnosed with acute myelogenous leukemia. Following his diagnosis, he completed treatment that led to a short-lived remission. A few months ago, he received a bone marrow transplant and seemed to be heading towards remission when he again relapsed.
This past Friday evening, gathered with colleagues at a Rabbinic reception in San Diego, we received the news that Sam had died. Words seem inadequate in the face of such a loss. Nothing I could write could equal those of my colleague Rebecca Einstein Schorr shared on her blog, rebeccaeinsteinschorr.com:
by REBECCA EINSTEIN SCHORR
And Samuel died; and all Israel gathered together and lamented him
(1 Samuel 25:1)
Sammy. Sweet Sammy has died.
He is dead.
His parents haven’t “lost” a child.
They would never…could never…be so careless.
He didn’t “pass” or “pass away.”
We pass a driving test or a kidney stone.
We don’t just pass through life.
Sammy didn’t just pass through life.
And at 12:33am, in the still solitude and with his beloved parents surrounding him with their love, Samuel Asher died.
And on Monday, December 16, 2013, all Israel will gather together and lament him…
We will not celebrate; we will mourn. Together. As we always have.
He is not in a better place because how could there be any place better than in his parents’ embrace?
And God didn’t want Sammy with Him; God weeps with us in our time of sorrow.”
So what do you when words don’t suffice, when the sorrow is so deep that even God weeps? What do you do when the pain of your friends loss is simply unfathomable? You send your love, you offer your support, and, if you can, you cross the distances to just be present. And that’s why I’m on my way to Chicago rather than coming home.
As I consider things at 39,000 feet, maybe distance isn’t a test of how far friendship can travel. Instead, maybe it is the strength of true friendship that gives us the ability to travel any distance.
One more thing:
At the end of October, Rabbis Phyllis Sommer and Rebecca Schorr had a crazy idea: what if thirty-six Reform rabbis would shave their heads to bring attention to the fact that only 4% of United States federal funding for cancer research is earmarked for all childhood cancers as well as raise $180,000 for this essential research. Two weeks after this conversation, Phyllis and Michael learn that Sam had relapsed and that there were no other treatment options for him.
I am proud to be one of 36 Rabbis Shave for the Brave, a group of slightly-meshugene, but very devoted rabbis who are yearning to do something in the face of this tragedy. We couldn’t save Sammy; perhaps, though, we can save others like him. And spare other parents like Phyllis and Michael from the pain of telling their child that there is nothing that the doctors can do to save his life.
When confronted with the fact that I have so little to shave, I have jokingly used the tag-line “I’m just trying to raise the most dollars per follicle!” But childhood cancer is no joke and this effort to now memorialize Superman Sam through our fundraising is quite serious.
I implore you to help me reach, and even exceed, my personal goal of $5000. Any donation, whether $18 or $1,800 will make a difference in helping to save the lives of future Sammy’s. Simply follow this link to make your donation: http://www.stbaldricks.org/participants/mypage/660571/2014
Thank you in advance for joining me in doing something to make a difference.