Sunday, December 15, 2013

Why I'm Crocheting

I am crocheting a cap. 
I'll finish this project if it kills me.

Oh. Why did I use that phrase? It won't kill me. It may frustrate me, but I'm healthy and strong and I'm crocheting this blue mess of yarn in memory of a boy I didn't even know.

Two things I do know:  I learned how to crochet in eighth grade.  And I don't follow written instructions very well.  I've already torn out eight or nine rows of this thing.  After every few rows I hold it up an say, "this looks nothing like a cap."

So, what's the story behind this?  Like the movie Titanic, you already know the ending.  Tragically, the little boy didn't make it. 

His family's story is not mine to share. 

Here's mine.

Last year I was at a dinner party on a weekend while I was working in Vancouver, Washington.  At the table, we were having great conversations about life, family, work, and the topic came to blogs. Three of the guests, two of whom are rabbis, were discussing the blog of their friend Phyllis.  

"Juliet,  do you know Phyllis?  Do YOU read her blog?
"No, I don't know her, I don't know about her blog."
"She writes a great one, just like you. You should really read it."

Hmm, okay.  With that little compliment thrown in there, how could I not check out Phyllis' blog.  After dinner that night, back in my hotel room, I found it via a link on the rabbi's Facebook page.  

After about one minute, it was clear that Phyllis was not just like me.  She was not blithely blogging about Eric Clapton, or smartwool socks, or posting pictures of her dogs frolicking the snow.  She wasn't even throwing out some good classroom tips or education stories. Phyllis was Rabbi Phyllis Sommer.  And her son, nicknamed Superman Sam, was currently in remission, having gone through treatment for Leukemia.  Her honest, almost poetic, way with words made me want to keep reading, and I read it...learning her story on a backwards timeline.

It was painful.  I closed my laptop.  But I couldn't turn off my mind. That's when I became part of this extended family that Phyllis Sommer lets in with her honesty.

I have finished that job in Washington, and moved on to jobs much closer to home, here in New Jersey.  I remain close to the rabbi there, Rabbi Elizabeth Dunsker, as well as the other rabbi, Rabbi Josh Caruso and his wife, Leah, who were at the dinner party that night.  And I continue to read the blog about Superman Sam.  I read that his cancer came back.  I read that they were frustrated by limited number of treatments left to them.

I read that they decided to take their other children out of school so that Sam could see Israel.  

And I read that he is out of treatment options.

And I cry when I read this.  

I have known many families who have lost children before.  I have cried with them.  I have led shiva minyanim for them.  But where does this emotion come from now?   I can only think that it is because this woman (this incredibly brave and honest woman) has shared her story so openly, that I feel I have been let in.  And it's touched my heart.  And it brings up feelings of loss and heartache that are as real as if I know the Sommer family personally.

On December 3, Rabbi Dunsker, and 35 other Reform rabbis posted that they were shaving their heads.  Shaving their heads?  What? Yes! And asking people to pledge any amount which will go to pediatric cancer research.  Great!  Click, credit card, send. Easy. I donate in memory of a special young girl who lost her battle to cancer.  I feel better.

I read Phyllis' blog.  Sam is dying. He's withdrawing. I read and re-read.  I can't stop thinking about this tragic scene.  I call my three kids and don't mention this at all. I just joke with them and talk about when we will be together over winter vacation.

I need to do more.

My heart is breaking.  Sam represents every family who has gone through this and every family who will. 

Then I see that Leah Caruso has posted a simple question on Facebook... asking if anyone can knit or crochet.  "I can do both," I quickly answer.  (This is true, though she doesn't know that my special learning disability keeps me from following patterns.  I don't do well with recipes either.  Come to think of it, I don't love rules, but that's another story.)  I immediately know what she's up to... caps for bald rabbis, and if we get enough people, extra caps to sell, to raise more money for St. Baldricks, the organization chosen by the rabbis.

I fly into action.  I organize my elective class in Wyckoff, NJ to agree to TRY to learn to crochet as I tell them Sammy's story, and then my friend, Rabbi Elizabeth Dunsker's brave response.  I buy the right yarn and crochet hooks for me and for the class.

"This looks nothing like a cap."
I start crocheting like mad.  I go onto YouTube and make sure I am doing it correctly after all this time (I was, but I hope I can teach it to non-lefties!) and I buy a crochet booklet to learn the abbreviations.

An impending snowstorm may mean that work is cancelled and more time to work on the cap.

And then I see that Superman Sam, age 8, has died.

I find mistakes in my work, and unravel it.  

The yarn feels heavier in my hands.  It looks suddenly different.  Darker.

I'm making this in Sam's memory, not in his honor now.

I'm determined to finish.  But it's just so sad.  At first I was going to ask if we could please pick other colors, but now blue is the only color it could possibly be.

This is the picture that his mother posted.

Following this blog, I'll share links so you can donate, knit, crochet or read more about this tragically short life.  If all you do is click "like," then I just wasted two hours of typing.  Please consider donating.  As we teach our children, even a small donation makes a big difference.  Each of the rabbis has a goal, and I'm positive that none would mind surpassing that goal.

May Samuel Sommer's memory be a blessing and may each of us go forward and make a difference for having known this story. 

Click here to read the blog that started it all : Rabbis Phyllis and Michael Sommer's  Superman Sam

Funeral information and more click here

To make a donation to the St. Baldricks Fund click here

To learn about how your can knit or crochet, please message me or reply to this blog.  That is being handled on a smaller scale.

More articles and other blogs to read:
The Times of  Israel: Superman Sam 

Information about the logo

Good-bye Superman Sam from a Pissed off God

How to help the newly bereaved


  1. Sending this along to 2 friends who knit ~ may we all work together to honor this beautiful family.

  2. That's wonderful... thank you. My email is I can your friends the information about knitting or crocheting the caps. I know many people have read this, thanks for being the first person to say that you'll take action.