“And Samuel died; and all Israel gathered together and lamented him” (1 Samuel 25:1).
This is how my friend Rabbi Rebecca Schorr began her post about Samuel Asher Sommer, son of rabbis Phyllis and Michael Sommer — also known as “Superman Sam.”
The posts appeared regularly on my Facebook feed. Stories about “Superman Sam.” Days counted. Photos of a little boy posted.
I don’t know how I became Facebook friends with Rabbi Phyllis Sommer. We must have connected back in the days when I blogged about being a modern Jewish mom and she blogged about being an ima on the bima. Then there was our mutual friend Rebecca Einstein Schorr who used to write a column for me about being a modern Jewish rabbi mom. Maybe she connected us? I don’t know, but I know how community can be created in a virtual world.
All I know is somehow Sommer stopped blogging about being on the bima and started writing, with her husband, about being the parents of Sam, Superman Sam.
I found it hard to read about Sam. I didn’t want to know about another child with cancer.
So I didn’t read. But the posts kept appearing. Not only from his mother, or from Schorr, but from other women, other rabbis, other mothers.
Something happens when you become a mother. I was never one to cry easily. Now, it’s different, simply knowing that there is a little boy, someone’s son, and he is dying.
There’s been too much cancer this year. I guess I’ve reached that age — that age when friends get sick. Or is it that we’ve reached the age when our doctors tell us to get screened? I don’t know. All I know is the thought of a child being left without a parent is too much to bear.
And the thought of a parent being left without a child is unbearable.
Parents aren’t supposed to bury their children.
Sam was diagnosed with acute myeloid leukemia in June 2012. He was the second of four children. Little brother to David. Big brother to Yael and Solly.
In August he received a bone marrow transplant. In October he was declared to be in remission.
Last month, I saw that the family was going to Israel. It was 8-year-old Sam’s dream. I assumed this meant there had been a turn for the worse. After all, who needs to rush a young family of six to Israel? Aren’t children supposed to have a lifetime to fulfill their dreams? Lifetimes are supposed to be longer than eight years.
I began reading about rabbis pledging to shave their heads (#36rabbis). They are classmates and friends of the Sommers, who graduated from Hebrew Union College. Michael had served as rabbi to Congregation B’nai Torah in Highland Park, Ill., but recently turned his attention to creating educational materials through his company Digital Judaism. Phyllis is the associate rabbi at Am Shalom in Glencoe. It may have even been Schorr who started the campaign through St. Baldrick’s Foundation, which raises money to find cures for childhood cancers. St. Baldrick’s created “Shaving Heads to Conquer Kids’ Cancer.” Rather than ask for money for running a 5K, participants promise to shave their heads in exchange for pledged funds.
Last week I thought the rabbis’ campaign would make an interesting story. I wanted to help. I emailed Schorr and asked when I could call her.
She emailed back that she was on her way to the airport. Sam had died at home Friday night. More than 1,000 people attended his funeral. People across the world shared their sorrow over the loss of the little boy they had grown to love through his parents’ powerful writings.
On Saturday, Dec. 14, Rabbi Sommer posted:
For the first 10,543 days of my life, I was not Sammy’s mother.
And then I had 2,959 days of Sam.
Now I face thousands of days without him.
I once lived 10,543 days without him.
But I didn’t know what I was missing.
May Superman Sam’s life be for a blessing.
To learn more, go to supermansamuel.blogspot.com. In his memory, donations may be made to the Sam Sommer Fund at Am Shalom.