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Miracles: Post 3 from Tribefest

Bradley Sherman

What do you think of when you hear the word miracle? The parting of the Red Sea? Moses turning his staff into a snake? Water into blood?

Yesterday afternoon we heard from Jonny Imerman a Detroit native now living in Chicago who is a young adult cancer survivor.  Jonny created Imerman Angels to ensure that no one fights cancer alone. His organization carefully matches a cancer fighter with someone who has fought and survived the same type of cancer (a Mentor Angel). Imerman Angels now has more than 4,000 cancer survivors and more than 1,500 caregivers in its network.

We also heard Bradley Sherman’s incredibly moving story about how Jewish agencies have shaped his life. A loving Jewish family adopted him from Bellefaire Adoption Center in Cleveland, Ohio, as an infant. Bellefaire JCB is an innovative organization that provides care, education, and advocacy to enhance the emotional, physical and intellectual well-being of children, young adults and families in the Jewish and general communities. Bradley met his future wife on a Taglit-Birthright trip. When his mother was killed in a terrible car crash while he was at Northwestern University, his ZBT fraternity brothers through Hillel made a daily minyan so he could say kaddish.

Jonny Imerman

What does this have to do with miracles? What may seem like a curse might just be a door opening to a transformation. Instead of being bitter about having cancer in his 20s, Jonny felt empowered. That Mentor Angel is a miracle to the cancer patient. Bradley is confident that he experienced a miracle when his parents adopted him from Bellefaire. He tells us that he couldn’t help but become acutely aware of how Jewish agencies made him who he is today. Now he is telling his story and inspiring young Jewish leaders to improve the communities in which they live.

Miracles are real things that we can create.  For the two individuals that are mentioned here, there are countless people at this conference that have their own unique stories and are inspiring their others to be miracle makers.  Together we make miracles happen.

Kelli Saperstein is blogging from TribeFest in Las Vegas. Check back often for more updates.

Previous Posts
Welcome to Tribefest, Post 1
Tribefest Service Prorject, Post 2 



  1. Rabbi Jason Miller on 03/30/2012 3:31 AM at 3:31 AM

    Whoa! I heard both Jonny Imerman and Brad Sherman speak at TribeFest. They were two very different speeches. Jonny’s a story of miracles. Surviving cancer can be classified as a miracle. Jonny is influential and inspiring. Sherman’s story was a self-absorbed narrative about growing up as an adopted child. He basically said it was a miracle that he was born to teen mother who didn’t want him but he ended up with wealthy Jewish adoptive parents. I guess one could call that a miracle, but it’s much different than surviving cancer in my opinion. Sherman’s second “miracle” was meeting his wife on an Israel trip (it wasn’t Taglit-Birthright because there was no Birthright back then!). I’d call that bashert (fate) or even a fairly typical way that Jewish teens meet (and it’s not all that uncommon for teens to meet on an Israel trip and eventually get married). The third “miracle” Sherman cited was that a daily minyan was formed at Northwestern Univ. Hillel after his mother died. Not a miracle, but a very praiseworthy act that his friends at Hillel did to ensure Brad could say Kaddish. The term “miracle” is subjective and in the eye of the beholder, but I am uncomfortable putting Jonny Imerman in the same category as Brad Sherman. Jonny is helping people fighting cancer in a very tangible way. Brad presented his biography and leadership accomplishments as a Federation activist.

  2. Robb Lippitt on 04/06/2012 2:42 AM at 2:42 AM


    How sad that you feel the need to tear down someone’s courageous choice to share their challenging personal story for your own aggrandizement. It was certainly not necessary to do so to celebrate Jonny’s courageousness and the amazing work he has done. Moreover, your post is entirely contrary to the atmosphere of community and support which prevailed at TribeFest. In addition to missing the spirit of TribeFest, you missed the entire point of Bradley Sherman’s speech – that the Federation system was the “miracle” which made the life he lives possible. I have no doubt, however, that millions of people (in addition to Bradley) who, through the generosity of Jews they have never met, were fed, clothed, educated, brought to safety, and/or given a second chance at life also view the work of Federation as a “miracle”. Judaism teaches us to say 100 blessings a day so we are reminded of the myriad miracles which exist in even the most mundane aspects of our lives. It is far beyond mundane miracle that so many Jews choose to donate their time, energy, and resources to help the lives of others. It is far beyond a mundane miracle when a child who might have ended up homeless is instead taken in by a Jewish agency and, ultimately, a Jewish family. It is far beyond a mundane miracle when a bunch of kids in college, inspired by their involvement in a Jewish organization, choose to give up their own free time to help a friend honor his dead mother. And it is far beyond a mundane miracle any time two people fall in love – wherever they are or whatever they are doing. As a Rabbi, I would have thought that helping people recognize the miracles we all experience every day, mundane or otherwise, would be high on your agenda. In seeing the opposite path you have chosen here, I certainly don’t recognize whatever Judaism it is you are espousing.


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