When Rabbi Eric Eisenkramer woke up the morning of March 30, he had a full head of dark, curly hair. By that afternoon, however, he was totally bald — and his congregation had raised more than $6,500 for childhood cancer research.
Eisenkramer participated in the “36 Rabbis Shave for the Brave” campaign organized by Rabbis Michael and Phyllis Sommer of Chicago, whose eight-year-old son, known as “Superman Sam,” died of leukemia Dec. 14.
Sam’s illness was documented in a blog followed by thousands of readers, including Eisenkramer, a friend and rabbinical school classmate of the boy’s parents.
Eisenkramer, religious leader of Temple B’nai Shalom in East Brunswick, was one of 99 rabbis who shaved their heads to raise funds for the whimsically named St. Baldrick’s Foundation, which has the serious goal of raising funds for more research into childhood cancer.
The rabbis, including several women, have so far raised $532,000.
“It’s the first haircut I’ve had in 2014,” Eisenkramer told the crowd of 200 gathered at the synagogue in anticipation, including his father, who had flown in from St. Louis. “I am absolutely touched and overwhelmed by your support.”
The rabbi noted that only 4 percent of research money is earmarked for childhood cancer, and that cancer kills more young people annually in the United States than any other childhood disease.
“Superman Sam was so courageous in coping although he was only eight years old,” Eisenkramer said, adding that the head-shaving events draw attention “and let the world know how important cancer research is and how desperately needed the funds are.”
“We believe as a synagogue it is important to give back to our community both as human beings and as Jews,” said congregation president Audrey Moore.
Steven Camins, owner of Drama Salon in East Brunswick, performed the 10-minute shearing as Eisenkramer took regular peeks in a mirror. Curious children, including the rabbi’s three-year-old twins, Jonah and Naomi, looked on in fascination.
Jonathan Volpe, 11, of Monroe, who was diagnosed with lymphoma in 2009 but is now in remission, came with his mother, Carla. She told NJJN that they were not members of the congregation but read about the fund-raiser in the newspaper. “I wouldn’t miss this for the world,” she said.
The event was also a reminder that cancer patients, including Jonathan, often lose their hair during treatment. “I do a lot of fund-raising,” said Jonathan, “and it makes me feel proud to see so many other people here supporting children like me.”