Breathing in the light, blowing out the darkness

Southfield rabbi named CNN Hero finalist

By: Kayla Dimick | Southfield Sun | Published October 17, 2014

 Martial Arts instructor Peter Davenport, Detroit, leads students through punch and kick combos during class.

Martial Arts instructor Peter Davenport, Detroit, leads students through punch and kick combos during class.

Photo by Patricia O’Blenes

SOUTHFIELD —  Rabbi Elimelech Goldberg couldn’t listen to the screams anymore.

As the 12-year director of Camp Simcha, a camp for children with cancer and blood disorders in the New York Catskill Mountains, Goldberg walked in on a child being held down by nurses in the infirmary.

“It was such an horrific scream. It was continuative,” Goldberg said. “I yelled out, ‘Wait!’ and everybody stopped. I had no clue what I would say next.”

Goldberg, also known as Rabbi G, then asked nurses for five minutes with the child. Goldberg told the child he was a black belt in martial arts, and asked the child he wanted to learn something amazing about pain.

“I taught him a simple tai chi breathing technique. He asked, ‘did you do it yet?’ when the nurses took out the needle,” Goldberg said.

Through this experience, Goldberg realized the potential applications of breathing techniques.

In 1999, Goldberg founded the nonprofit organization Kids Kicking Cancer, which provides weekly martial arts classes for children with cancer, according to the organization’s website.

Goldberg holds a first-degree black belt in choi kwon do.

The classes teach children how to manage pain through breathing, visualization and relaxation techniques. Children also learn basic martial arts techniques.

Kids Kicking Cancer has since grown and now boasts of 2,500 students in four countries, Goldberg said.

Goldberg has been named a 2014 Top Ten CNN Hero for his Kids Kicking Cancer organization, located on Northwester Highway in Southfield.

The nomination for the award, Goldberg said, came from a family member of a child who was involved with the program in California.

Anybody can go to CNN’s website and vote for their favorite hero. Voting is open until Nov. 16.

“The more people this can spread to, the more chance we have to build a global platform that allows us to reach out to the children all over the world to breath in the light and blow out the darkness,” Goldberg said.

Goldberg knows about the battle children with cancer go through, as his daughter, Sara, passed away from leukemia one week before her first birthday.

“She was an amazing little girl,” Goldberg said.

Devona Moore, whose son, Lucas, 4, is in the Little Heroes class at Kids Kicking Cancer, said the program also helps parents deal with the emotions that come from having a child with cancer. Lucas was diagnosed in May with a soft tissue cancer.

“For me, it helps,” Moore said. “I can talk with other individuals who have gone or are going through what I’m going through with a child with a life-threatening illness, and it’s nice because I can relax, I can have a cup of coffee, fellowship, check emails if I wanted to. It’s so zen here.”

The atmosphere of Kids Kicking Cancer is a relaxing one, and Moore said it helps the children involved learn how to battle their disease.

“This program helps that fighter spirit come out in you. You punch it, you take it on, you kick its butt. Everybody involved with this program are fighters for these kids. I’m proud that I brought him here to this program,” Moore said.

To vote for Goldberg, go to http://heroes.cnn.com/#.gd2iijgeWshchc. For more information on Kids Kicking Cancer, visit kidskickingcancer.org or go to facebook.com/kidskickingcancer.