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Houston Boy and Family the Focus of Nationwide Compassion

Houston Boy and Family the Focus of Nationwide Compassion

Devorah and Refael Elisha Cohen
Devorah and Refael Elisha Cohen

Refael Elisha Cohen—in critical condition with a brain tumor—has attracted the compassion of people in the Houston community and throughout the world, who are trying to offer support in any way they can.

To date, more than 80,000 people have petitioned the White House online, urging the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to permit the 6-year-old to receive an unapproved alternative cancer treatment, but 20,000 more online signatures are needed by a rapidly approaching Jan. 2 deadline.

The boy, who was healthy until the age of 5, has what’s known as medulloblastoma—a highly malignant brain tumor that originates in the cerebellum or posterior fossa, a small space in the skull. He had surgery to remove the brain tumor 14 months ago, followed by radiation and chemotherapy. He went into remission for a short time and the family thought he was getting better, but a routine MRI for post-treatment care showed otherwise.


After exhausting all treatments available, his doctors have told the family that there is nothing more they can do. Refael Elisha is currently at home in hospice.

However, the family heard about an alternative therapy currently not approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, and with it a loophole known as a “compassionate use exemption,” which would potentially allow their son to receive this therapy.

They were aware that the treatment was controversial, but still went ahead with the option.

The Cohens—Rabbi Yaakov Cohen, his wife Devorah and their six children, now ages 2 to 19—came to Houston from San Antonio three years ago.

‘Light From Darkness’

Whether or not one agrees with the controversial therapy the family is seeking, the situation has invoked compassion from many people and brought the Houston Jewish community together.

Rabbi Yaakov Cohen and Refael Elisha
Rabbi Yaakov Cohen and Refael Elisha

“They have given everybody in the community and around the world a chance to help,” says Rochel Lazaroff. With her husband, Rabbi Lazer Lazaroff, she co-directs Chabad at Texas Medical Center and Aishel House, an 18-unit facility that provides out-of-town families coping with a health issue with a place to stay, as well as spiritual support and daily kosher meals all at no charge.

At the Aishel House, Rochel Lazaroff works with sick children and their families all the time. Sometimes, kids get well. And sometimes, they don’t, and it’s difficult to watch, she says. Still, they are there to support Jewish patients and families, like the Cohens, in whatever ways they can—from the spiritual to the physical, explains Lazaroff. Like they do for many other patients, they have provided ongoing kosher meals, as well as a shoulder to cry on.

She adds that people around the world have given of themselves in all kinds of ways, and that every bit of goodness, every mitzvah, helps: “You see the power of good, the light, that comes from darkness. I’m totally moved by the amount of chesed [lovingkindness] we have seen. It just goes to show that we can change the world in an instant.”

“Yes, the situation is grim—he needs a miracle—but every click on the petition is like a hug” around the family, she adds.

Of Raphael Elisha’s mother, Devorah Teicher Cohen, Lazaroff says she’s a “guiding light for emunah [faith, belief]. She took this hardship and let people do good for her son. Everyone feels their pain to the extent that they can.

“She’s such a spiritual person. She sees everything in the hands of G‑d.”

The family also made it a point to note that they have been supported by Rabbi Zvi Boyarsky of the Aleph Institute, the Florida-based advocacy and support organization for those in institutional environments.

Right now, all they can do is offer their son pain medication. But they say he is a fighter. There is one last option, and “when someone is running,” insists Lazaroff, “you don’t tell them to stop.”

To sign the petition, go to the White House petition page.

Donations to the family, who have been struggling with medical and other bills, can be made here.

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Channah Leah Eibenshutz Dallas, Texas February 20, 2014

Yes, Updates Please I would like to add my voice to Morry's request. I have actually been searching the web from time to time to find out how little Raphael is doing, but have found nothing. I, too, continue to daven for the very best outcome for this little boy and the whole Cohen family. Reply

Morry Glicksman Beachwood, Ohio February 19, 2014

Refoel Elisha Meir ben Devorah Please send continuous updates regarding the boy's progress. Since we are constantly davening for him , it would be nice to know when he attains a refuah sheleima. We haven't received any updates since the 3rd week of December Reply

Anonymous Jerusalem December 24, 2013

May HaKadosh Baruch Hu grant Refua Slema to Refael Elisha ben Devorah, and a miracle of a quick and a complete recovery. Reply

Daniel W GA December 23, 2013

Am I wrong for Trusting Science? As Becca from NY points out, you can find testimonials from people who say they have been helped by this doctor. At the same time, though, you can Google respected newspapers and the actual FDA discussions/responses that place doubt on those testimonials and paint a grim picture of the doctor himself. When your treatment has documented cases of people dying from it and you've actively hidden or destroyed other patient records when they didn't have the result you wanted, you become a risk and it becomes our responsibility to prevent others from falling prey to your tactics.

We Daven to Hashem for Refuos and Yeshuos, but His Torah also warns against believing false prophets. Reply

Anonymous December 23, 2013

Not a Charity Case I was at a prominent American rabbi’s house this two Shabbats ago He saw an email about Elisha and was not convinced of the cause. His wife added there is a popular Rebbetzin who said in one of her classes that she lost a child to cancer and that she was relieved when the doctors said that nothing else can be done. She was satisfied that she made a full effort and could focus on her child's last days and providing for her other children. Reply

Gabriel Harroch Montreal,Canada December 22, 2013

Hashem please send your chid your yeshuot !!!!! amen selah!!!!! Reply

Becca New York December 22, 2013

I hope someone reads this and tell his parents about this place Please google Dr. Bruzynski , he has healed many patients who were on their death bed and all doctors had given up on them.

He has a clinic in Houston Tx Reply

Orly Fuerst December 22, 2013

First, to those who asked for the full Hebrew name, it is: Raphael Elisha Meir ben Devorah.

Next - to those who judge - DON'T. Let the parents do whatever they need to for their son. A slim glimmer of a chance is better than none, and that is where he is now. He is IN HOSPICE!!!! This is his chance. Who are we to judge what his parents need to do. Or from where a miracle may originate. Reply

Anonymous NEW JERSEY December 22, 2013


rachel new york December 22, 2013

annoyed! I felt compelled to write to all of you! Empathy means feeling for someone else...clearly we can't ever fully feel what any1 goes through, but this family is stating what it needs/wants and hopes...the way to feel now is just act on what they wish...they wannt your signatures and prayers- who are we to judge, warn, speak against etc.... we are. NOT in their position, even some1 who is going through brain cancer lo aleinu, each situation is different...please if you have nothing nice to say or helpful in terms of signing- rather don't comment! What if the family read these comments- do you not think they did wtvr research they deemed necessary - Hashem is the true healer and the miracle can occur through ANT if HE wills it regardless if it has statistics to back it up! So every1 mind yourselves and/or just sign and fwd and pray for Rephael Elisha Meir ben Devorah and all his family to have strength during this nightmare. Reply

Anonymous jerusalem December 22, 2013

we are adding his name to our tehillim group in jerusalem - he should receive a full and complete refuah, now and his family should also be comforted. Reply

Andrea Spain December 21, 2013

-continuation of post on suggestion made by a medical student on the petition. that Refael Elisha's parents may want to read Dear Andrea, My heartfelt wishes and prayers go out to Rafael and his family at this time, and I cannot begin to understand the anguish that they are going through. However, I was shocked to read your request to support Antineoplaston Therapy for Rafael, offered by the Burzynski Clinic. In over 30 years there has been no solid evidence published to support its efficacy in treating any cancers (Randomised Control Trials published in peer-reviewed journals, with results replicated by other separate academics). Furthermore, the treatment comes with a risk of side effects, such as anaemia and seizures. It is also extremely expensive (I presume Rafael's parents would be paying for it, as an insurance company certainly would not). I could not support the use of a drug which did not have clear evidence for efficacy and safety, and I am afraid that Antineoplastin Therapy has neither. I feel that the Burzynski Clinic is cruelly taking advantage of Rafael's parents, who would understandably do Reply

Andrea Spain December 21, 2013

Tefillah and an email I received about the petition I was wondering what Refael Elisha's full Hebrew name is, so we can pray for his Refuah Shelemah? Is it Refael Elisha ben Devorah? May HaKadosh Baruch Hu grant him and his whole family a miracle.

Furthermore, I was wondering if there is any way of getting this message to Refael Elisha's parents because I sent out an email to my contacts to try and collect signatures for the petition and received a reply from one of them, who is a medical student, making a suggestion that is hard to digest but that I think it is important that I share, just in case it is a perspective they haven't heard.

- I'll paste it onto the next post, as I am running out of the space allowed on this post. Reply

Anonymous Earth December 20, 2013

I agree with Daniel Before jumping in and supporting this course of treatment, one needs to examine the doctor seriously. I recommend the recent coverage that this doctor received on the cover of USA Today--you will be horrified to hear what is really going on. I find it curious that the name of the physician, Stanislaw Burzynski, is not mentioned here, because it makes informed support more difficult. Honestly, I want to hear where family heard that the treatment was on the verge of starting up again; the FDA released a scathing warning letter on Dec 5th. I am heartened by the love that has poured out for this child. I am angered that it is being used as propaganda for a treatment that is still "experimental" after 36 years. Reply

Aaron Howard Houston, TX via December 20, 2013

Good Intentions Daniel W's post hit the nail on the head.

While none of us would want to be faced with the situation the Cohens are facing, G-d forbid, signing this petition is morally wrong.

First, the clinic that the Cohen family has turned to has been under investigation for its medical and financial practices for a number of years.

Second, the efficacy of antineoplastin therapy has not been accepted anywhere in the world of cancer research.

Third, the FDA is NOT nearing approval to resume this treatment because its ability to cure ANY form of cancer has not been proven in a blind study

And fourth, what troubles me the most is that a number of the religious leaders in Houston know these facts but still urge people to sign this petition.

If one advocates absolute integrity in commercial affairs, how can one advocate signing this petition? Reply

Channah Leah Eibenshutz Dallas,Texas December 20, 2013

Stumbling Block As heartbreaking as this situation is, I have no choice but to add my voice to that of Daniel W. My son, Aaron, was diagnosed with brain cancer in 2011 and since then we have become too familiar with the good and bad in brain cancer treatments. I regret to confirm that based on my knowledge, nothing positive comes from the treatment sought through the petition. There is NO statistical data to suggest that the treatment is effective - or else we would have already been there !!!! We are obliged by Torah to warn a blind man of that which could cause him to stumble. This petition is, in my opinion, a stumbling block. Daniel W did the right thing to offer his warning.
What would be a better offering of support for this stricken family is to provide the monetary support to pursue another option. Reply

Anonymous December 20, 2013

Refael Elisha Cohen Please approve funding for the alternative therapy treatment of this sick little boy. Reply

Lisa Marie Tennessee..USA December 19, 2013

Sending a big hug to this precious family. I pray Refael Elisha Cohen will be healed. Reply

Daniel W GA December 19, 2013

Tefillos and donations good; petition bad Our Tefillos for a Refua Shelema are very much needed, as are monetary donations so the family can make ends meet while they take care not only of this boy but the rest of their family.

Having said that, it is also our responsibility to prevent predators from taking advantage of desperate people - even if these people say they are willing participants. The petition is factually wrong in that the treatment is not nearing FDA approval, and the doctor is in hot water for covering up adverse reactions in other patents of his. Chas Veshalom we should find ourselves advocating for a solution that kills more often than it helps.

Lo Aleinu - we should never be faced with the prospect of letting a child slip away - not ourselves and not in all of Klal Yisrael; we don't even wish it upon our enemies! Let us be sure in this case to participate in appropriate, smart ways and not by reacting emotionally in a way that will do more damage in the long run. Reply

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