As 8-year-old ‘Superman Sam’ succumbs to cancer, Lehigh Valley rabbi continues support By Julie Wiener Jewish Telegraphic Agency
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In March, dozens of rabbis will shave their heads at the Reform movement’s Central Conference of American Rabbis conference in Chicago. But the 8-year-old boy whose struggle with cancer inspired the rabbis’ campaign will not be there to witness their act of solidarity. Samuel Asher Sommer, the son of Rabbis Phyllis and Michael Sommer, died Dec. 14 in his Chicagoarea home after an 18-month battle against refractory acute myeloid leukemia. His funeral was held Dec. 16 at Am Shalom, where Phyllis Sommer is an associate rabbi. Phyllis Sommer had created “Superman Sam,” a blog that documented her son’s struggle. Along with a fellow Reform rabbi, she came up with the idea for the “36 Rabbis Shave For The Brave” in order to raise money for pediatric cancer research and show solidarity with Sam, who lost his hair due to chemotherapy. In the days since Samuel’s death, rabbis have continued to join the campaign. As of Monday, 51 rabbis, most affiliated with the Reform movement, have pledged to lose their locks. Another 11 have volunteered to help in other ways. According to the according to the “36 Rabbis Shave For The Brave” Web page, the campaign has raised $122,808 as of mid-December for the St. Baldrick’s Foundation, a 13-year-old nonprofit that raises money for pediatric cancer research. Rabbi Charles Briskin, one of the rabbis who has pledged to shave his head and raised $4,339, said he
signed on because he is friends with the Sommers and “felt propelled by the cause.” “Following Sammy’s death, there’s just greater resolve to get more people on board to prevent more [families] from having to endure this,” he said. “Our goal is to keep the momentum going as we make our way to Chicago.” The idea for “36 Rabbis Shave for the Brave” came in late October, according to Rabbi Rebecca Einstein Schorr of Pennsylvania’s Lehigh Valley, who is coordinating the campaign with another rabbi. “Phyllis was talking about St. Baldrick’s and said maybe it was time for her to shave her head,” she said. “I said, ‘That’s a wonderful idea, and we could probably get some of our colleagues to do it.’ ” The two set a goal of $180,000 and 36 rabbis. “Then we said, we should all do it together at the CCAR conference since it’s in Chicago, and Sammy can come, too,” Schorr said. Schorr said the shaving is to show solidarity with children undergoing chemotherapy and to raise awareness. “It’s important for us to educate people about the lack of funding for pediatric cancer research, and we believe that as rabbis we have power we can leverage when we see a need in society,” she said. According to the St. Baldrick’s Foundation website, just 4 percent of money earmarked for cancer research in the United States focuses on pediatric cancers. As a result, the foundation said, physicians must struggle to apply to children protocols that have been developed for adult patients. Treatment that works for adults can be toxic for children because they are so much smaller.
End of Congress’ year brings odd reversal on Jewish priorities By Ron Kampeas Jewish Telegraphic Agency
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For Jewish and pro-Israel groups, the congressional year is ending with an odd reversal: the prospect, however fragile, of bipartisan comity on budget issues coupled with a rare partisan disagreement on Middle Eastern policy. The groups that deal with
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14 JANUARY 2014 | HAKOL LEHIGH VALLEY
social welfare and justice issues are heartened, albeit warily, by the end-of-year budget forged by Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.), chairman of the U.S. House of Representatives Budget Committee, and Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.), his Senate counterpart. Meanwhile, pronounced differences are emerging in the bipartisan coalition that over the last decade has shaped the tough sanctions that helped compel Iran to join talks aimed at ensuring it does not obtain a nuclear weapon. Democrats are heeding White House pleas to lay low while the talks get underway, while Republicans are eager to advance legislation that would influence any final deal. The differences were at the heart of a breakdown in talks between Rep. Eric Cantor (RVa.), the Republican majority leader in the House, and Rep. Steny Hoyer (D-Md.), the minority whip, to craft a nonbinding resolution that would have recommended additional Iran sanctions. Hoyer, congressional insiders said, was under pressure from the White House and Democrats not to undercut sensitive talks. Additionally, Cantor’s language appeared to overreach, especially in calling for an end to Iran’s uranium enrichment capability as part of a final deal -- an expectation that Obama administration officials have said is unrealistic. The disagreement heralds a shift in how Democrats treat pro-Israel issues, according to officials of Jewish groups that have advocated a softer line in dealing with Iran. Officials from centrist proIsrael groups said there is still robust bipartisan support for the U.S.-Israel relationship. They noted the overwhelming passage in the House this month of bills that would
advance Israel’s qualitative military edge and energy cooperation with the United States, as well as agreement in the House and Senate to triple the administration’s request for funding of missile defense cooperation to nearly $300 million. A Republican congressional staffer predicted that the Senate would consider the sanctions in 2014 even though Senate Democrats have resisted because of the renewed talks with Iran. “As you get closer to November 2014 [and midterm elections], it’s going to be harder to keep folks from getting tough,” said the staffer, who declined to be identified because he wasn’t authorized to talk to the media. On the domestic front, the two-year budget agreement that passed the House in December and as HAKOL went to press was likely to pass in the Senate is being seen as a positive step after months of bickering between the two parties, including a 16-day government shutdown. But any optimism is restrained. Gun control is an issue backed by Jewish groups that seemed ripe for advancement a year ago after a gunman killed 20 first-graders and six adults at a school in Newtown, Conn. But within months, fierce pushback by gun rights groups, led by the National Rifle Association, diluted what had appeared to be bipartisan backing for more extensive background checks for gun buyers. That was a major disappointment, said Rabbi Julie Schonfeld, who directs the Conservative movement’s Rabbinical Assembly. “We passed the Newtown anniversary … with the spectacular failure of the country to introduce even the most modest background checks,” she said.