Last updated December 18th 2016
Having lost his own two year-old daughter, Sara Basya, to leukemia in 1981, Rabbi Elimelech Goldberg has a strong bond with children with cancer. A first degree black belt in the Korean art of Choi Kwon Do, Goldberg’s life took an unexpected turn when he began teaching breathing techniques to kids at an oncology camp he directed.
It all started when Rabbi Goldberg (or ‘Rabbi G’, as the young patients affectionately call him), a Clinical Assistant Professor at the Department of Pediatrics at the Wayne State School of Medicine and a 2014 “Top 10” CNN Hero , walked into a room where a five year old child was undergoing treatment and was being held down while screaming. Goldberg stepped in and asked the nurses to give him a few minutes alone with the boy. In an effort to calm him, Goldberg decided to demonstrate some breathing techniques that are used in martial arts. “In martial arts, you learn that pain is a message that you don’t have to listen to,” Goldberg explains.
Within five minutes, the boy had learned a simple breathing technique and twenty minutes later he looked up at the nurse and asked her when she would do the procedure. However, she had already finished and the child had hardly noticed.
Not just for cancer patients
Goldberg’s commitment to ease the pain of very sick children, and his dream of bringing healing through the empowering focus of the martial arts, resulted in the creation of Kids Kicking Cancer (KKC) in June of 1999. A non-profit organization, Kids Kicking Cancer provides weekly classes for both inpatient and outpatient children in the mind-body techniques found in the martial arts. Despite the word ‘cancer’ in the organization’s name, the program offers help and services, not just to cancer patients and their families, but to any child dealing with the challenges of serious or chronic illness.
Free of charge
Through an innovative program, also known as the Heroes Circle, which merges modern integrative medicine with traditional martial arts, Kids Kicking Cancer addresses the overwhelming needs of children with illness. Specially trained black belt martial artists, some of whom were once in the Kids Kicking Cancer program when they were children, go through an intensive 10-hour training course. They then go on to teach breathing, visualization, and relaxation techniques, in addition to traditional martial arts moves to help empower the children and provide them with a sense of Power, Peace and Purpose, which is KKC’s mantra. Martial arts classes, support during hospital and clinic procedures, uniforms, and transportation to and from classes are all provided to families at no cost. Children three and older, and their siblings, are eligible for the program.
From Detroit to Israel
Founded in Goldberg’s home city of Detroit, Michigan, Kids Kicking Cancer launched in Israel in 2013. The program has now expanded to 28 hospitals in the US & Canada, 15 in Italy, and six in Israel. The participating Israeli hospitals are: Shaarei Tsedek, Hadassah Ein Karem, and Alyn Hospitals in Jerusalem, the Sheba Hospital at Tel Hoshomer, Tel Aviv Sourasky Medical Center (Ichilov) and Schneider’s Children Medical Center in Petah Tikvah. In total, Kids Kicking Cancer is working with 3,000 children worldwide and 80 children in the six Israeli hospitals.
The chairman of Kids Kicking Cancer Israel is Danny Hakim, a seventh degree Karate black belt with over 30 years teaching experience. Hakim has represented Australia, Japan and Israel in numerous international karate tournaments. His ability to see martial arts as a tool to empower children to create inner peace and universal focus led to his founding Budo for Peace in 2004. When he learned about Kids Kicking Cancer, he decided to bring it under the umbrella of Budo for Peace, which is funded by Israel’s Bank Hapoalim and a number of private foundations. KKC Israel’s instructors come from all sectors of the public, both Jewish and Arab. Hakim views the program as a model of coexistence.
A CNN Hero
Kids Kicking Cancer has been widely lauded in the press. In March 2012, Goldberg was featured in People Magazine in their “Heroes Among Us” feature. In August 2013, Kids Kicking Cancer was featured on Good Morning America and this year was the subject of an article in USA Today. In 2014, Rabbi Goldberg was recongnized as a “Top 10” CNN hero, a global program which honors individuals who make extraordinary contributions to humanitarian aid and make a difference in their communities.
Study: 85% feel less pain with KKC’s method
A new study from the Wayne State University School of Medicine found that Kids Kicking Cancer was effective for the vast majority of patients they studied.
“The martial arts have often been known to be invested in Chuck Norris, Bruce Lee types of activities,” Dr. Martin Bluth of the Wayne State University School of Medicine said in a statement. “So what we did is assess whether or not martial arts intervention using the meditative capacities and empowerment capacities … can have an effect on moderating or reducing childhood cancer pain.”
The research team worked with 64 children of varying ages to test their pain levels before, during and after their martial arts training. The study found that 85 percent of the students reported feeling less pain, thanks to Rabbi G’s method.
Sold-out charity benefit
A week ago, Kids Kicking Cancer Israel hosted a special benefit evening in Ra’anana, a central city in Israel, with all proceed going directly to KKC. Hundreds packed the municipal hall to watch Hollywood comedian Elon Gold perform his hilarious stand-up act, but not before two inspirational Israeli KKC kids, sisters Kayla and Gefen Feiler, stole the show when they demonstrated what they had learned from Kids Kicking Cancer. At one point the entire crowd stood up and following the girls’ lead, practiced the Breathe Break, a stress-relieving breathing technique trademarked by Kids Kicking Cancer. When they finished, the girls’ instructor told the crowd that Gefen, the younger sister who had cancer, is now in full remission.
Not about learning, but teaching
Kids Kicking Cancer has already helped thousands of children around the globe deal with their pain in a more managable way and regain a sense of control over the chaos of their lives. The potential to reach millions of young patients is vast, but Goldberg insists that it’s not about teaching the children, but about “empowering kids to be partners in their own healing”. Goldberg’s aim is for the kids to see themselves as victors, not victims and for those same kids to provide ispiration and light to others facing life-challenges.
“It’s all about the children becoming teachers,” Rabbi Goldberg told the Detroit Free Press. “When children know they have a purpose — it changes everything.”
Photos and Video: KidsKickingCancer.com, CNN