Beards are sparedBeards are spared

Rabbis shave hair for ‘St. Baldrick’

Campaign seeks 36 spiritual leaders to sacrifice their locks in support of pediatric cancer research

Renee Ghert-Zand is the health reporter and a feature writer for The Times of Israel.

Samuel Sommer (photo credit: courtesy of Phyllis Sommer)
Samuel Sommer (photo credit: courtesy of Phyllis Sommer)

Thirty-six rabbis are expected to shortly shave their heads in honor of St. Baldrick, but their congregants will be relieved to know the rabbis are not changing their religion. The Jewish leaders are simply showing just how fervent they are in their desire to support pediatric cancer research.

“There’s no real St. Baldrick,” explains Rabbi Rebecca Einstein Schorr, who is organizing the fundraising campaign in honor of Samuel Sommer, an eight-year-old Chicago-area boy suffering from refractory acute myeloid leukemia.

In coordination with the St. Baldrick’s Foundation (its name is a mashup of “bald” and “St. Patrick’s), Schorr is recruiting 36 of her colleagues to shave their heads to bring in at least $180,000 in sponsorship donations toward research grant funding.

“It’s really important to fund research specifically for childhood cancers,” says Schorr, who lives near Allentown, Pennsylvania, and edits a blog about disability for the New York Jewish Week. “So little is earmarked for pediatric cancer research, but at the same time, protocols for adult research are not safe for kids.”

Sam is the son of Schorr’s colleague, Rabbi Phyllis Sommer. Following an initial diagnosis in June 2012, Sam underwent treatment, including a bone marrow treatment, and went into remission. Recently, his illness returned and doctors told his parents there is nothing more they can do for him. His mother has recorded her son’s and her family’s cancer journey on a blog called “Superman Sam.”

St. Baldrick’s volunteers shave their heads to show solidarity with pediatric cancer patients, raise awareness, and raise funds for research. Schorr and her co-chair, Rabbi Elizabeth Wood of New York, have reached out to fellow members of the Central Conference of American Rabbis and beyond to recruit volunteers. They are aiming to sign up 36 who will completely shave their heads, but expect others to join in the effort by either cutting their hair short or just fundraising.

While some of the rabbis will join together in person for a communal St. Baldrick’s hair shaving at the CCAR’s conference in Chicago in March 2014, others will stage shaving events at their home congregations.

“Auctioning off the first shave within your congregation is a smart fundraising tactic,” Schorr suggests.

So far, 20 rabbis have registered to be shaved, three of them women. Schorr is not surprised that more men are volunteering. “Some of our colleagues don’t have so much hair anyway,” she jokes.

“But some are infatuated with their lovely locks. They do love their hair,” Schorr remarks. She’s hoping these rabbis in particular will volunteer to have their heads shorn.

“When it comes to being selfless about doing good deeds, rabbis always talk the talk,” she says.

Now it’s time for them to walk the walk…over to the barber’s chair.

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