CINCINNATI -- It was about 18 months after Ethan Kadish was struck by lightning when his mom went to the library and checked out the children's book "The Rhino Who Swallowed a Storm."
"I sat in the parking lot, and I read it, and tears were coming down my face," Alexia Kadish said.
It wasn't the terrible storm in the story that affected Ethan's mom so deeply. It was the book's explanation of the importance of community in the face of tragedy -- something the Kadish family experienced directly after Ethan was hurt so badly.
"Each page that I read just drew me in and made me feel so much more connected with our own community that had sustained us," she said.
Now -- more than two years after the day she sat and cried in the library parking lot -- Kadish will get a chance to meet Susan Schaefer Bernardo and Courtenay Fletcher, the co-author and illustrator of the book that touched her heart.
The two women will sign books that people purchase at Rockdale Temple on Tuesday, March 7 to help raise money to offset Ethan's ongoing medical expenses. More information is available here or by calling Rockdale Temple at 513-891-9900.
Kadish is hoping Ethan can be there, too, but it will depend on how he's feeling. He suffered a serious brain injury from the lightning strike in 2013. He still can't walk or talk or take care of himself in the most basic ways. Some days for Ethan, who is now 16, are better than others.
Alexia Kadish expects the event to be part fundraiser and part celebration of the people who call themselves "Team Ethan" and continue to support the Kadish family through Ethan's ups and downs.
"It's just always so heartwarming that people are still thinking about Ethan and our family," she said. "It just really touches me."
'It's really gratifying'
Bernardo and Fletcher said they're looking forward to meeting the Kadishes, too, along with members of the community who have supported the family.
They first learned about Ethan when Julia Weinstein, a close friend of the Kadish family, wrote to them about what their book meant to her, Alexia Kadish and so many other Kadish friends and family members.
"When you write a book like this, it's a working book," Bernardo said. "I think of it almost like a service dog. To know that it has gotten out to the world and is reaching people…"
"It's really gratifying," Fletcher said. "It makes us feel that what we're doing is the right thing."
The fundraiser has been years in the making.
From the moment Alexia Kadish told Weinstein about the book, Weinstein was determined to make a connection between her friend and the book's creators.
The summer after Weinstein sent her first letter, Bernardo and Fletcher helped Kadish, Weinstein and their friend Jen Smilg meet LeVar Burton, the longtime host and executive producer of Reading Rainbow and the book's co-author. Burton was speaking at the Cleveland Public Library, and Kadish, Weinstein and Smilg drove to tell him in person what "The Rhino Who Swallowed a Storm" meant to them.
"They're such a strong family and the way that the community has come out to support them is very inspiring," Bernardo said.
Weinstein is making the most of the visit.
The fundraiser for Ethan is one of several events Bernardo and Fletcher will be doing in the short time they are here.
On Tuesday morning, Bernardo and Fletcher will be at Rockwern Academy, the Jewish day school that Ethan used to attend. Weinstein is the librarian there and directs its All School Read program.
Teaching the value of community
This year, the school has partnered with Hays Porter Elementary School in the West End to read two books about the power of community -- "The Rhino Who Swallowed a Storm" and "Last Stop on Market Street."
Bernardo and Fletcher will do programs with students from both schools at Rockwern on Tuesday before Ethan's fundraiser and then at Hays Porter on Wednesday.
Before they leave town Wednesday, they will go to Cincinnati Children's Hospital Medical Center to read to patients there and donate some books.
It took more than two years to coordinate the visit because Weinstein plans the All School Read program at least a year in advance and then had to raise money through multiple grants to pay for the books, the author visits and other expenses associated with the program.
Weinstein said all the time and work has been worth it, not only to help the Kadishes, but also because of the students at Rockwern and Hays Porter.
"It's to teach those values," she said. "To show why we need community and that community can be many things."
The Kadish family knows that as well as anyone.
Community can mean the rabbi who comes to the hospital after your son nearly dies. The neighbors who help renovate your home to accommodate a wheelchair and friends who take turns cooking meals for months or driving kids to soccer practice. They do all that while to surround you with love and support and try to make one of the most difficult times of your life as easy as possible.
If all goes as planned, that community will come together Tuesday night to embrace the Kadish family once again to help Ethan.
Details about the fundraiser are available here. If you can't attend the event but want to help with Ethan's medical expenses, you can make a tax-deductible donation at helphopelive.org in honor of Ethan S. Kadish.
To read more stories about Ethan Kadish and his recovery, go to wcpo.com/ethan.