Thursday, May 7, 2015

Sharp Enough to Split a Hair – Or Shave Them All Off … For A Good Cause

[Note:  If you came here looking for the link to the donation page, scroll down to the end.  If you came to bid in the silent auction to win the chance to start the shaving, enter your bid as a message on this blog.]

On Sunday, May 17th, I will pay off on a challenge I made to my religious school kids a year ago.  On the last day of religious school LAST year, when we announced the tzedakah (significantly more than “charity,” the Hebrew value of “sacred giving” – see the end for a deeper understanding) total for last year, I commended the kids for their generosity, but I told them that they, that WE, could do better.  So I made them a deal – if the roughly 80 kids in our 1-2 times per week program could contribute $750 by our mid-year Chanukkah assembly and party, then on the last day of this school year, I would shave my head (NOT my face) bald!

Of course, they succeeded – with plenty of room to spare.  I am pretty sure those last couple of days there were kids – and adults – slipping an extra Abe Lincoln into the envelopes … just to make sure!

But the story only begins there – because once we were committed to “the big shave,” I made a second pledge (publicly – it was really the initial pledge that started this whole ball rolling) that we would use that shaving of my head for even more good purposes.  So, when the trimmer starts its work in few days, we will still be raising money to support the work of the Andrew McDonough B+ Foundation (read that as “Be Positive,” and click here, , to learn their story) – raising awareness about childhood cancers, doing research that we pray will one day cure and prevent them, and supporting families confronting this hideous disease. 

Since you are reading this, I hope you will support my efforts – and B+’s, not merely to make me feel better as I get used to being hairless!  Jump down to the bottom if you wish, to learn how you can contribute to the cause.  And, if you are in the area on May 17th, please come join us for the spectacle!

I had almost joined some 70 other Rabbis last spring, who shaved their heads in solidarity with two of our colleagues, Rabbis Phyllis and Michael Sommers, whose young son, Sam’s courageous battle against cancer had ended just a few months before.  “Superman Sam,” as his parents nicknamed him, and his battle against cancer, had been chronicled by his parents to raise awareness about childhood cancers – the “Shave for the Brave” project, working with the folks at St. Baldrick’s    ( ), raised some $600,000 for research and support of families.

In the end, I had not chosen to shave with the others last March.  I wasn’t going to be in Chicago for the CCAR Convention at which the shaving would take place, and, as small as the world of the Reform Rabbinate is, I had no direct link to the family.  I, like so many others, was moved by Sam’s story, and the courage and compassion the all taught us by their example.  But I didn’t want to just pile on as “one more,” no matter how good the cause.  I would wait for the right time for my world, praying that it would never come so close to me and mine.

When one of my Sisterhood presidents asked me why I hadn’t shaved my head like all the other Reform Rabbis, I told her this.  Apparently, several of my families thought it would be a hoot, and could serve a good cause, if THEIR Rabbi were to shave his head, publicly, for a cause.  I made it clear that there would have to be much good involved in the effort, but I was game.  And so came my challenge to the kids, and their embrace of it, and now, we are a few days away from my going bald.

I knew that as the day approached, I would be thinking of both my mother-in-law, who died of breast cancer, and my mother, a retired school teacher who put her students’ well-being and learning before everything else, and who died of ovarian cancer.  Sure, we support efforts to combat both of those forms of the disease as a family.  But, especially in remembering my mother, it felt right to be working to help children.

What we could not have known was that, in the interim, the daughter of two OTHER Rabbinic colleagues whom I have known longer than they have known each other, from my camp and regional youth group work, Maya Ringler, would be diagnosed for a second time, at age 10, with cancer.  After they began to know what they were dealing with, Peter and Stacy asked their daughter, since so many people wanted to know what they could do for her, what she wanted.  Her answer was wise beyond her years.  Even in the face of this new diagnosis, Maya still felt as if she had everything she needed, so she said “I don’t need anything! Tell everyone to make a donation to Alex’s Lemonade Stand ( ), because what we all really need is for no more kids to get cancer.”  And so, her parents did as she asked.  After all, when she had beaten kidney cancer at age 2, as a family, they had begun supporting Alex’s in gratitude. And since January, Maya’s efforts to help others exploded past her initial fundraising goal, and her most recent of $100,000 (as of a week ago, the total collected stood at $117,459 and counting).  Maya has set her new goal at $250,000.

I am blown away, in total awe, of this 10 year old and her family.  But I am not surprised.  If you want to be inspired, Google her name – there are dozens of stories.  So much so that a part of me wishes I had never agreed to shave – because in our little congregation, I cannot hope to come close to the successes of Maya Rigler, or “Shave for the Brave.”

But that part of me is silenced almost immediately, reminded that this is NOT a competition, and that, even as the amount raised by colleagues and friends approaches $1,000,000, we are still not any closer to the REAL goal – of eradicating childhood cancers, and helping the families who are already dealing with it.  EVERY penny is needed.

Even if my daughter Emily is a little ticked at her old man for not looking at the calendar before agreeing to this, and remembering that her college graduation is just a few days later! I know, however, that she is just giving me a hard time, because SHE is the one who brought B+ to my attention – she, and her sorority sisters of ZTA at The College of New Jersey, whose TCNJams dance marathon this semester raised $50,000 for B+, and was formally recognized as the “Program of the Year” on campus.

“So – How can I contribute to the cause?”

Actually – there are MANY different ways to do so.

1.     The BEST way, from my perspective, would be to go to the website that has been set up for contributions at B+  :
2.     Next best would be to make out a check to “The B+ Foundation,” and note that you are supporting me, Rabbi Steve Weisman, on the memo line, and deliver or send it to Temple Solel, 2901 Mitchellville Rd., Bowie MD 20716.  We will collect them, and pass them through to B+.  (Just be aware that we may hold them for a brief period before passing them forward).
3.     If, for any reason, you have an existing strong connection to either St. Baldrick’s or Alex’s Lemonade, feel free to contribute to them instead, as all these fine groups are working to the same end.  If you do contribute through one of these other groups however, please provide them with my name and the Temple address, and ask them to send me a confirmation, so we can keep track and acknowledge all gifts


From now until May 15, we will be running a silent auction for the right to begin the shaving process!  That’s right, the high bidder will get to run the trimmer for the first couple of strokes through my hair.

The auction will run right here, in the comments section.  We will establish the opening bid at $18 – seems appropriate.  If you wish to bid, just do so in a message below.  We will close the bidding at 6:30 on Friday, as services begin.

*- A Note on Tzedakah – as noted above, the Jewish concept expressed in the word goes far beyond the English concept by which it is usually translated, “charity.”  The Jewish value of “sacred giving” transcends giving to help those in need.  In fact, it moves beyond financial giving as well.  The root of the Hebrew term means “correct,” or “right,” in the sense of “righteous,” which connects it into the realm of the mitzvah (“commandment”) system that is at the heart of Jewish interpersonal relationships.  Taken from a moral perspective, HOW we help others is as important, and sometimes more so, than what we do to help.  The clarion statement of this reality comes from Maimonides, the medieval Rabbi/philosopher, whose 8-step “Ladder of Tzedakah” makes clear all of these elements.