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Rabbi Faces Bald Truth for a Cause

March 14, 2014 By:
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It was more than a little off the top for Rabbi Eric Goldberg of Shir Ami.

Mitzvah Hero: What’s the buzz? Rabbi Eric Goldberg’s new hair style. The religious school director of Shir Ami in Newtown recently had his head shaved as part of 36 Rabbis Shave for the Brave, a national fundraising campaign memorializing a Chicago rabbinical couple’s son, who succumbed to cancer at age 8 this past December.

What It’s All About: The couple, Phyllis and Michael Sommer, were classmates of Golberg's at Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion. 

"We’ve known each other for 15 to 16 years," Goldberg said, so “when this unfortunate opportunity came about — I knew the Sommers’ son, Sam — how could I not take part?”  

He did just that, surrounded by congregants at his synagogue, during a special Purim dinner celebration. He was in a different area from where dinner was being served, though, since the idea of mixing a haircut with food didn’t seem, well, kosher, he says. About 100 congregants watched as John McKenna of John’s Barber Shop in Newtown clipped away. 

Not a One-Time Thing: With all the mitzvot he is proud to say he has been involved in as rabbi, Goldberg concedes that this is the first time he's ever shaved his head for charity. Proceeds benefit the St. Baldrick’s Foundation, which raises funds for pediatric cancer research.

More rabbis will be doing the same thing at a special off-with-their-hair event on April 1 during the 125th Conference of Reform Rabbis gathering in Chicago.

But being Jewish or a rabbi certainly isn't required to help: McKenna contributed his services as well, which covered — or uncovered — not only the rabbi’s but the heads of a handful of Hebrew students at Shir Ami who decided to have their heads cropped as well for the cause.  

Good for Him: Goldberg equated raising funds for the pediatric cancer research foundation akin to saving a person's life, the highest honor one can achieve. He personally brought in some $5,300 by taking part in the shave-a-rebbe. 

Goldberg is reportedly the only rabbi in the immediate Philadelphia vicinity taking part in this Reform movement charitable effort, but Rabbi Yair Robinson of Beth Emeth Wilmington and Rabbi Jeremy Winaker of Albert Einstein Academy are participating in Delaware, as well as Reconstructionist Rabbinical College student Matan Peled in Allentown, according to Rabbi Rebecca Schorr of Emmaus, Pa., who co-founded the project along with Sam Sommer's mom.

“By the end of this there will be 72 new bald or balding rabbis” — depending, adds Schorr, on how follicle-challenged some were in the beginning. 

And how does Goldberg like his new “do”?

“Well, I was losing my hair anyway,” he quips. “So let’s call this a precursor.”

Would he take on such a challenge again?

"Absolutely!" says the rabbi.

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