Join The Conversation With Mishpacha's Weekly Newsletter

Alive and Kicking

Rochel Burstyn

Elimelech Goldberg, a shul rabbi and karate black belt, has taught thousands of kids how to cope with the pain of cancer treatments

Thursday, October 06, 2016

 Mishpacha image

HIGHER PURPOSE “The greatest tragedy is being with a dying nonagenarian who does not have a clue why he or she inhabited this planet.” Rabbi Goldberg teaches kids how to work through their pain by training them to focus beyond the incredible stress they’re facing (Photos: Arjo Photography)

Tt’s two days after Labor Day, and though fall is around the corner, it’s unbearably hot in Detroit. A late afternoon downpour is a welcome relief, but soon enough large puddles are forming on the road, and a long line of cars is lined up in rush-hour traffic.

In these conditions, going anywhere for the first time is a challenge, but somehow I turn into a driveway and inch along a curved road until I see a nondescript office building tucked behind a row of parked cars. Not quite convinced I’ve arrived at my destination, my doubts are put to rest when I see five African-American kids spill out of a nearby van — each wearing what’s unmistakably a karate belt. I know that I’ve arrived.

Inside, I find the karate studio, a large room outfitted with blue pads on the floor and motivational posters on the walls. A crowd of young and old — kids with purple, orange, or yellow karate belts, muscular men with black belts, parents, caregivers, staff, and volunteers — move with purpose. The noise level is high, the kids giddy — they’d had a break last week and are thrilled to be back — and in the center of them all, greeting each person, is a bearded man wearing a black suit and large black yarmulke. I watch as he greets a woman and her kids warmly in Spanish, and for a moment, I’m convinced he knows the language fluently.

The man is Elimelech Goldberg, a rabbi and martial arts instructor whose modest bearing says nothing about the unfathomable heights he’s reached in kiddush Hashem. We’re in the Kids Kicking Cancer healing arts studio in Southfield, Michigan, where kids who have cancer or sickle cell disease (and their siblings) learn to become powerful martial artists, tame their disease with their mental power, and inspire others around the world with their courage and strength.

The kids spread out on the mat in neat rows, Rabbi Goldberg facing them at the front of the room. He welcomes them with his signature catchphrase “Power, Peace, Purpose” as he places one hand on his fist and bows. The kids chant “Power, Peace, Purpose” in return, bow in unison, and the class begins. The kids in the room range in age from about 5 to 16, and all look healthy and energetic. At least for this class it’s hard to tell who’s sick, who’s undergoing painful treatments, or who has a sick sibling — a reminder that we never truly know the private loads that people carry, kids included. The kids punch forward (shouting “Ay!”), double punch (“Ay, ay!”), and do a rather complicated-looking double-punch-high kick (“Ay, ay, ay!”)

BREATHING LIGHT It’s not so much about martial arts as it is about the neshamah. “We’re breathing in light straight from Hashem and with His help, we can deal with anything”

The opening warm-ups out of the way, instructor Richard Plowden, a five-time world karate champion, acknowledges a small, thin boy who raises his hand. He’s just celebrated his birthday and Richard asks him if he had a cake. When the young karate master responds with an excited yes, Richard replies with a mock-horrified: “And you didn’t invite us?!” He asks about the kids’ new schools, their classes, their summer fun, responding with questions, empathy, and true kindness. Then he directs them to stand at attention and close their eyes. The room descends into a solemn silence. “Breathe in the light…” Richard instructs.

The collective inhale is audible — even many of the observing adults around the room have their eyes closed and are participating.

“And blow out the darkness…” The collective exhale is equally loud.

And then Sensei Richard calls loudly, “What are you?”

“Powerful martial artists!” the kids yell in response.

“What’s your purpose?”

“To teach the world!”

It’s not just hyperbole; they really do. There’s a screen right there in the room with the latest update of the people who have been impacted by these kids: It currently stands at 14,238.

Related Stories

Judgment Day

Aryeh Ehrlich

When successful entrepreneur Rav Sholom Landau was advised to leave the business world and become a ...

A Contradiction Until the End

Binyamin Rose and Sarah Pardes

Serving in the Knesset for 48 years and holding every top cabinet post yet never winning an election...

Creating Shelter

C. Rosenberg

For some women, preparing for Yom Tov requires more than devising eight days of menus — it means con...

Share this page with a friend. Fill in the information below, and we'll email your friend a link to this page on your behalf.

Your name
Your email address
You friend's name
Your friend's email address
Please type the characters you see in the image into the box provided.

The Fortunes of War
Rabbi Moshe Grylak We’re still feeling the fallout of the First World War
Some Lessons, But Few Portents
Yonoson Rosenblum What the midterms tell us about 2020
Vote of Confidence
Eyan Kobre Why I tuned in to the liberal radio station
5 out of 10
Rabbi Dovid Bashevkin Top 5 Moments of the Kinus
Day in the Life
Rachel Bachrach Chaim White of KC Kosher Co-op
When Less is More
Rabbi Ron Yitzchok Eisenman How a good edit enhances a manuscript
It’s My Job
Jacob L. Freedman “Will you force me to take meds?”
They’re Still Playing My Song?
Riki Goldstein Yitzy Bald’s Yerav Na
Yisroel Werdyger Can’t Stop Singing
Riki Goldstein Ahrele Samet’s Loi Luni
Double Chords of Hope
Riki Goldstein You never know how far your music can go
Will Dedi Have the Last Laugh?
Dovid N. Golding Dedi and Ding go way back
Battle of the Budge
Faigy Peritzman Using stubbornness to grow in ruchniyus
The Challenging Child
Sarah Chana Radcliffe Strategies for raising the difficult child
Bucking the Trend
Sara Eisemann If I skip sem, will I get a good shidduch?
The Musician: Part 1
D. Himy, M.S. CCC-SLP and Zivia Reischer "If she can't read she'll be handicapped for life!"