A little over two years ago, I wrote that one of the highlights of my yomtov season was lighting candles on Shemini Atzeres and not needing to daven for the safe return of Gilad ben Aviva. On Motzaei Shabbos I found out that I could no longer daven for the recovery of Shmuel Asher Uzziel.
Like many people round the world, I have been following Phyllis and Michael Sommer as they shared their son Sam’s journey on their blog Superman Sam. Sam was diagnosed with AML aged 6 and immediately began an aggressive chemo treatment. His mother Phyllis, who also blogs as Ima on the Bima, tried to explain to him, a few days into his hospital stay that hundreds of people across the US (and further afield) were praying for him, so she asked people to send him photos of themselves ideally with a superhero theme, so he would know who they were. With Phyllis’ engaging personality and social media skills, the project snowballed, as did the use of the nickname “Superman Sam”, and the hospital was soon snowed under with letters and packages for Sam.
Their community and friends rallied round them and they were able to give Sam and his siblings, David, Yael and Solly, good experiences and positive memories even during this incredibly difficult time.
Tragically, despite having a bone marrow transplant earlier this year, the leukaemia never completely went away and late on Friday night, Sam died, in his mother’s arms.
The grace, faith, love and honesty which Phyllis and Michael shared on the blog would put many more orthoprax people to shame.
1000 people joined the Sommer family for the levaya and Sam’s death was reported in both national and international press. A family friend, Rebecca Einstein Schorr, is co-ordinating a fundraising “Shave for the Brave” event with St Baldrick’s Foundation, a non-profit organisation which raises money for research into paediatric cancer. Apparently, in America, only 4% of the money for cancer research is dedicated to paediatric cancer. “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.” I don’t know what the research funding situation is like in the UK.
I’ve never met the Sommer family, but I am an avid follower of Superman Sam. We have an 8 year old son, who shares a name with Shmuel Asher Uzziel and I can’t even begin to imagine what it must feel like to have to tell your child that they are going to die. Just the fact that Phyllis and Michael were able to do that and to give Sam a peaceful and meaningful last few weeks, in his own home, filled with love, shows what remarkable people they must be.
HaMakom yinachem eschem besoch shaar avelei Tzion v’Yerushalayim.