I am not . . . I am not . . . I am . . .
I am not going to try to convince you to support funding for pediatric cancer research; if you need convincing, read here.
I am not going to pretend to have known well our honoree, Superman Sam Sommer zichrono livrakha [may his memory be for a blessing, z”l for short].
I am going to share why I think rabbis–specifically, rabbis–shaving their heads for pediatric cancer research matters, and why it matters enough for me to have joined them.
When I first heard about 36 Rabbis Shave for the Brave, I thought:
I might; but, no, I am too removed from the Sommers. Phyllis Sommer was supposed to be a fellow in my Rabbis Without Borders cohort, and even that feels like a reach.
I might; but, no, I happen to be a Conservative rabbi, and the group is Reform rabbis.
I won’t; my community would see my actions as chutzpadik [impudent], a personal act with seemingly unconsidered public consequences. Perhaps, they’ll think I am acting out my own grief. Perhaps, they’ll think I am jumping on a distant bandwagon on the off-chance it plays locally. Perhaps, they’ll think I am filled with enough bravado not to care whether others understand. I won’t . . . be that rabbi who acts without bringing along his/her constituency.
That last thought, that thought brought me back to what it means to me to be a rabbi, and that is when I knew: I am going to shave my head.
The summer before I started rabbinical school, I came across this quotation by Rabbi Israel Salanter, the founder of a psycho-ethical approach to Judaism known as the Musar Movement: “A RABBI WHOSE CONGREGATION DOES NOT DISAGREE WITH HIM IS NOT A RABBI; AND A RABBI WHO IS AFRAID OF HIS CONGREGATION IS NOT A MAN.” Sam Sommer’s death was not a time for me as a rabbi to be afraid. The question was how to close the gap from alienating my congregation to giving space for disagreement.
I believe that what it means to be a rabbi is to teach the wisdom of the Jewish tradition deeply and to aid souls in access, nourishing, and sustaining a spiritual connection to the Divine.
Putting Salanter together with my vision of the rabbinate, joining 36 Rabbis Shave for the Brave must live out a lesson in Jewish wisdom that I can teach my community and/or that will connect my community spiritually. I admit that I was skeptical that I could meet these criteria. I hedged.
I met with another local rabbi who has a close, personal relationship to the Sommers. He was also thinking through what it means to join this effort as a rabbi. Together, we inspired each other. I am proud to call Rabbi Yair Robinson a partner in my efforts.
Emboldened by our partnership, I began to realize that my rabbinic role will not be as difficult to carry out. On the contrary, I began to realize that rabbinic audacity speaks to this moment.
As a rabbi, I will be affirming the sanctity of life, helping raise money for research to give children years that cancer would take away. As a rabbi, I will be giving expression to the fragility of life and the miracle of its regeneration. As a rabbi, I will be bringing to life ancient traditions where shaving one’s head indicated a transition to a new life. As a rabbi, I will be demonstrating the power of community, a community that transcends any one locale. As a rabbi, I will share how social media, in Sam’s case, was used for good to build community and humanity, as noted by Ken Gordon. As a Conservative rabbi, I will join across denominational divide to show how all Jews are one. As a rabbi, I will teach the details in these wisdoms, the very real cycle of life, and the importance of responding to God’s search for human partners in this shattered creation we inhabit.
I am going to shave my head to raise money for pediatric cancer research because, as a rabbi, I will also be doing all those things listed in the paragraph above. I know the other rabbis who shave for the brave will be doing the same.
If you would like to support my efforts, click here.