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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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Discussion (19)
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.
Channah Leah Eibenshutz
Dallas, Texas
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
Morry Glicksman
Beachwood, Ohio
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.
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.
Daniel W
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.
December 22, 2013

Hashem please send your chid your yeshuot !!!!! amen selah!!!!!
Gabriel Harroch
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
New York
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.
Orly Fuerst
December 22, 2013
December 22, 2013
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.
new york
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