#36Rabbis Shave in Grief and Hope

I’m nervous. One last photo of my hair.

It’s very late, but I want to write this before I forget anything.

The mood tonight before the #36Rabbis Shave for the Brave event was giddy. We milled around in the common area in the B2 level of the Fairmont Hotel, waiting for a program to end. The noise level was high; the group was noisy and discombobulated. Rabbi Julie Adler and I talked about how strange it seemed that we were in such a manic mood, when the heartbreaking story of Superman Sam had given birth to the whole project. We were gathering in our grief and our rage that children suffer with these terrible diseases. Pediatric cancer destroys young lives and it is brutal for the families who suffer it, even when the patient survives. We had come to raise funds for research to find a better way via the St. Baldrick’s Foundation.

My own mood was unstable – on the one hand, I’ve been working towards this event for months. Every time I think about Phyllis Sommer, and imagine losing my own child, I begin to cry. Every time I remember the children in the Bone Marrow Unit at City of Hope, I feel great sadness. Those feelings warred with my personal feelings of vanity:  I was about to go bald! My hair is a major source of vanity for me, especially since it has stayed thick and dark as I’ve aged, and letting go of it was a big deal. I was acutely aware that it was too late to back out. I was glad my brother and his wife were there; I leaned on their presence.

The mood in the room was giddy. That seemed inappropriate until I asked the question: what IS the appropriate response to an obscene event, the death of a young child? We do not have the wherewithal to digest such a thing. It is, literally, unthinkable. Then it didn’t seem so strange that the children ran around in circles and adults took nervous photos of one another. We had no way to respond, so we circled in nervous energy.

Finally it was time, and we filed into the auditorium for a brief evening service. Rabbi Rex Perlmutter led a service of quiet and calm, centering us for the task ahead, reminding us why we were there with a memorial of all those we’ve lost of late, including Sammy Sommer. The giddy mania stopped, and a quiet expectation filled the room. We “shavees” were called up onto the stage for a br

It felt weird.

ief final song, then lined up for the shave.

I was the last rabbi shaved. I watched my colleagues go before me, and I saw that for some, especially women, it was difficult. I cried a little bit watching them. But when my own time came, I sat in the chair and the barber checked with me briefly, “You OK?” I said, “Well, I figure that this is one time I will get exactly the cut I wanted.” He laughed, and began to cut.

The cold air hit my scalp in patches. I had worried that I might cry, but it was such a peculiar sensation that I didn’t feel like crying. My head grew colder, and I felt a breeze. I felt a weight falling away from me. Then some hair dropped across my face, and I scrunched my face against it. I could hear my brother teasing me about the faces I was making, so I made more faces.

It was a moment of intense life. A moment of loss, and a moment of freedom. It was a moment of extreme closeness with colleagues, some of whom I had only recently met. It was a moment of rabbis coming together to mourn and to insist upon making the world better, and I feel blessed to be part of such a group. All the nerves were gone; what remained was a holy peace, shalom.

Now I sit here with my cold head and my heavy eyelids, trying to process it all. The fundraising continues: I am not yet at my goal. But whatever happens, I know that I have been present for something I will never forget.

It is not too late to participate in this extraordinary project. You can donate through my page on the St. Baldricks Foundation website.

Women Rabbis Shave for the Brave
Women Rabbis Shave for the Brave

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Rabbi Ruth Adar is a teaching rabbi in San Leandro, CA. She has many hats: rabbi, granny, and ham radio operator K6RAV. She blogs at http://coffeeshoprabbi.com/ and teaches at Jewish Gateways in Albany, CA.

11 thoughts on “#36Rabbis Shave in Grief and Hope”

  1. You and your colleagues are such a beautiful focus for this effort of tikkun olam. May every breeze that dances across your shorn scalp feel like a blessing!

  2. Breast cancer was discovered in my body in September 2011.

    I knew I’d lose my hair sometime after I started chemo. My hair was past my shoulders and my bangs had grown so far out that I began trying to train my hair to go slightly to one side. They were still short enough that if I bent over even slightly, they would fall into my face instead of stay behind my ears as I wanted them to do. After my first treatment, but before my second one, one night a section of hair got loose from behind my ear and fell in front of my face. I reached up to move it back into place as usual and it came away in my hand.

    I’ve never been vain about my hair. I was blessed with a nice head of thick hair from the womb. I’m older and had some grey, but most was still dark-brown. To my shock, to my utter surprise as I reached for more hair to see what would happen and it all began to come out as I touched it. I began to bawl. I had no earthly idea I could be affected this way by losing my hair.

    I had insomnia that night (nothing new for me) and was on Facebook. Thank God I had friends on there from other parts of the globe who supported me as I was honest about what was happening.

    Where I live, a hairdresser comes out three times a week so the next morning I called her at home and got an appointment for later that day. We had already spoken about shaving my head when the time came. I already had a few small head-coverings to wear and was thankful that my partially bald head wouldn’t be seen until I was inside her shop. Shaving the rest off didn’t bother me. I was quite thankful when she said, “Oh, you have a nicely shaped head.” I wasn’t sure!! 🙂 She would not allow me to pay her anything, not even a tip, for shaving it. Months later I learned this is standard with hairdressers.

    Once the chemo ended and I awaited a mastectomy, my hair and my tastebuds — they never tell you they leave as well — grew back. At first I told everybody I looked like a dirty egg. It made everyone chuckle, but that’s what my head looked like to me. I was also surprised to see it grow back in with more grey and about half as thick as it was.

    I’d been told it would grow back curly, which I would have loved as I’ve spent a lot of money on perms over the years, and/or a different color and many other things.

    I don’t know about a man’s perspective, but as a woman I know how you felt and I applaud each and every one of you!! There might be people who would think it was no big deal — I certainly did until it actually happened — but I know the truth. It IS a big deal to lose your hair.

    God’s blessings upon each one of you!!

    1. Oh, Kathy, I read this with tears in my eyes. Mine was a choice, yours was not. But yes, losing that hair is a very big deal either way. I wish you a refuah shleimah, a complete healing. L’shalom, Ruth.

      1. Thank you!!

        I had my first mammogram for my remaining breast and a cat scan and X-rays for the place where the other breast was removed. I am pleased — well, still quite excited even though this was in November — to report that “no cancer is indicated.” Those words were in bold, all caps and I cried a bit and thanked God!! Then I shared the good news with family and friends!! 🙂

    1. Frank, I am so sorry to hear that your sister is ill. I wish her healing, wise doctors, kind caretakers, and effective treatments.

  3. I have made a small donation and reposted to facebook…hoping for some more donations. Thanks for your brave decision to shave your head and be part of the leadership to support important research. Life giving…love sustaining.

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