Southfield rabbi uses martial arts to help sick kids
Southfield – — Rabbi Elimelech Goldberg stood before the white-robed youths around him and asked: "What's your purpose?"
The reply from the students during a class at Kids Kicking Cancer on Tuesday afternoon was instantaneous and unanimously enthusiastic: "To teach the world!"
That hope permeates the efforts of the Southfield-based nonprofit that Goldberg founded to ease the pain of children with serious illness.
Now, there's a chance for him and the group to widen their reach after more than 15 years influencing young lives.
The rabbi has been selected as one of the top 10 CNN Heroes of 2014.
"We have this vision that this contest will allow us a platform to get millions of people to follow our kids," Goldberg said.
He and the other contenders — who champion music education, lion conservation, programs for the disabled and other causes across the country as well as internationally — were nominated by CNN's global audience and have been profiled on the network.
They each receive $25,000 and will be featured in "CNN Heroes: An All-Star Tribute," scheduled to air Dec. 7.
The public is invited to vote online daily through Nov. 16 for the Hero of the Year, who is slated to earn an additional $100,000 for his or her charity.
Such a windfall could work wonders at Kids Kicking Cancer, which relies on outside support to offer families free martial arts classes, support during medical procedures as well as other programs.
They could enhance or expand efforts locally, across the country and even worldwide, Goldberg said: "The more people that hear about us, the more we can spread."
Goldberg, a clinical assistant professor of pediatrics at the Wayne State University School of Medicine, has aimed to help patients push back against pain for decades.
His daughter, Sara Basya, battled leukemia and died at age 2 in 1981. Inspired by the pain management techniques while leading a camp for Jewish kids with cancer, Goldberg — who has a black belt in Choi Kwang-Do — launched Kids Kicking Cancer.
Since its first class in 1999, the group has offered free classes and support for an estimated 5,000 children and their families. It has expanded programs to New York, California, Florida, Italy, Israel and Canada, according to its website.
Its mantra — power, peace and purpose — is painted across a wall in the space where about a dozen children practiced Tuesday.
Among them was Donald Davis, 18, of Detroit, who started attending about eight years ago to cope with pain associated with sickle cell disease, which prompted lengthy hospitalizations.
"Once I joined, it reduced the hospital visits 100 percent," he said. "I rarely go to the hospital at all."
The attention from CNN also provides another platform with a double benefit, Goldberg said.
"We are looking to get one million followers on our Facebook page over the next 12 months. Why? Because when we put the kids out there describing how they use their breath and their meditations … and they actually see that thousands of people will write back to them and say, 'You've inspired me, you've changed my life,' they're therapeutically different," he said. "The ability to let even little kids know that there's a purpose to what they're going through significantly lowers their pain."
Michael Hunt, who was part of the first Kids Kicking Cancer class and now is an assistant martial arts therapist there, said he is "doubly excited" about the exposure and potential growth.
"We can reach more people and get the message across," he said.
To vote for Goldberg, go to www.CNNHero.com
For more information on his group: www.kidskickingcancer.org