After learning that a Jewish camper who was struck by lightning last summer would be in the area for pain treatments, a group of local well-wishers joined forces to offer meals, rides and support during his stay.
Ever since being struck by lightning while playing ultimate frisbee at a Reform movement camp in Indiana in 2013, 14-year-old Ethan Kadish has spent most of his days in and out of hospitals where doctors have been trying to help him recover basic speech, arm and leg motions.
His treatments this month brought him to Malvern, Pa., where he was receiving three weeks of myofascial release therapy from a center there of the same name.
The non-surgical procedure aims to alleviate pain in Ethan’s scoliosis-ridden spine that has affected his hip and pelvis, and been a stumbling block in his recovery, said his mother, Alexia.
“I’m very, very happy to report that it is working, and Ethan is much more comfortable,” said Kadish. “Our ultimate hope is that if we can truly make an affect on his back and bring him to a place of comfort — take that piece out of the whole equation — then we can return back to a path of rehabilitation.”
When members of Philadelphia’s Jewish community learned that Ethan and his family were coming to town, they lined up to help out.
At the center of several efforts has been Rebecca Carr, a volunteer at Or Ami Synagogue in Lafayette Hill, where Carr’s husband serves as the rabbi. She also happens to be the director of fundraising and patient services at HelpHopeLive, a nonprofit that has been supporting the family since she learned about the tragic accident through her Jewish networks.
Through Or Ami, she’s been organizing meals for Ethan’s family while they are staying in the Philadelphia area at a hotel apartment.
Carr said that within an hour of suggesting that Or Ami chip in with the cooking, all the meal slots were filled up. A congregant who works closer to Malvern volunteered to bring over the meals.
At one point, the Kadish family told them to “slow down the meals, people are cooking so much food,” Carr said with a satisfied laugh.
HelpHopeLive, a national organization based in Radnor that fundraises for families dealing with medical crises or who have a family member in need of a transplant, has amped up their “Team Ethan” campaign efforts during his visit to Philadelphia.
“Ethan’s everybody’s child, it could have been my kid” who was injured, Carr said. “That’s something that really resonates with everybody.”
Ethan suffered cardiac arrest as a result of the lightning strike and experienced what doctors call a hypoxic brain injury. Two other campers playing near him at the time were hospitalized as well but were released shortly afterward.
Since becoming involved with Ethan’s case, HelpHopeLive has raised funds to cover the family’s medical-related expenses such as flights and hotels to wherever Ethan goes to receive treatment, as well as medical procedures or therapies not covered by insurance, all of which amounts to more than $100,000 a year.
In fact, Carr said, the number of individual donors to “Team Ethan” has exceeded those of all the other 7,000 people that HelpHopeLive has assisted over its 31 years of existence.
“Strangers across the country heard about this boy and wanted to help,” Carr said. “I’ve heard from so many 12- and 13-year-old kids saying, ‘I want to give some of my Bar or Bat Mitzvah money, I heard what happened to this boy.’ ”
Still, it is important to continue to accrue donations for Ethan, Carr continued, because the well of giving may dry up as people move on to other causes but Ethan’s expenses will continue to pile up.
The group is in the midst of its second annual “Eighth Night for Ethan” campaign, which encourages those celebrating Chanukah to donate to Ethan on the eighth night of the holiday at bit.ly/hhl-jointeamethan.
The campaign’s beneficiary visited HelpHopeLive’s headquarters during his stay in Philadelphia, which gave the staff a rare opportunity to meet one of the people they’ve been working so hard to help, Carr said.
Also helping out have been local members of the Union for Reform Judaism; in particular those involved with Camp Harlam, including camp director Aaron Selkow, and Dan Pliskin, vice chair of the camp’s board.
As a child, Pliskin attended the same camp where Ethan was when he was struck, the Goldman Union Camp Institute. He and other Camp Harlam staffers and community members have been running an informal taxi service between the airport and Malvern for family, friends and medical staff cycling through Philadelphia to support the Kadishes.
Yet another synagogue, Beth Chaim Reform Congregation in Malvern, under the direction of Rabbi Michelle Pearlman, have been providing extra medical personnel to assist in caring for Ethan, and also sent over gift baskets and handmade cards that were put together by the synagogue’s Hebrew school.
“We pulled this all together in 24 hours,” Pliskin said of the coordination among all of the groups.
The Kadish family, who was slated to return home this weekend to Cincinnati, said they have been blown away by the show of support.
“We just feel like we’ve been completely welcomed by such a beautiful, extended community that surrounds the Philadelphia area,” said Kadish, who worked as a copy editor for The American Israelite, a Jewish newspaper in Cincinnati, before Ethan’s injury.
“We were strangers in a strange land but we do not feel like strangers. The City of Brotherly Love has certainly shown us the love.”