Brett Stern helped organize help for the Kadish family immediately after Ethan was struck by lightning. Photo: Emily Maxwell | WCPO
Brett Stern knew immediately she wanted to mobilize help for the Kadish family after Ethan was struck by lightning.
It just took her a couple days to convince Ethan's parents, Scott and Alexia Kadish, to let her visit at the hospital to figure out what they would need.
Once she got there, Stern said, "I called Laura, and it was on."
She and Laura Berger, both friends of the family, emailed everyone they knew who knew the Kadishes and were quickly overwhelmed with offers of help. Stern found the Lotsa Helping Hands website to coordinate the scores of volunteers known as "Team Ethan."
She used the site to coordinate overnight stays at the hospital with Ethan when needed, family meals, care for the Kadishes' dog and rides for a visiting relative from the airport.
"I call her our ‘life manager' because she just takes care of everything and anything," Alexia Kadish said.
Stern said it's nothing more than the Kadishes would do. She knows because of how she met Alexia Kadish.
Stern's older daughter, Shoshana, is about the same age as Ethan's younger sister, Elyse. The two girls were starting preschool just days after Stern had given birth to Leora, who is now 7.
The women were neighbors but didn't know each other.
Kadish called Stern and asked if she wanted to carpool for preschool, adding. "I hope you don't mind, but I'd like to drive both ways for the first three months."
That's one small example of how the Kadish family helped others for years before Ethan's injury. But Stern said the family's reputation isn't the only reason Team Ethan has grown to more than 500 people.
"People are inspired by them," she said. "People are learning that you can find joy and happiness and beauty in life regardless of what tragedies might befall you. And I think people are sticking around because it's a beautiful story to be a part of."
Laura Berger helped organize Team Ethan to help raise money and support for the Kadish family. Photo: Emily Maxwell | WCPO
Laura and Mark Berger were supposed to go to the Greek Festival with Scott and Alexia Kadish last June 29.
Berger called to cancel because her husband wasn't feeling well when Scott Kadish told her Ethan had been struck by lightning at camp outside of Indianapolis. Ethan was alive, but his parents didn't know much more than that. They were on their way to Indianapolis to see their son.
By the next day, Mark Berger was in Indianapolis with the Kadishes, and Laura Berger was working with Brett Stern to create what would become Team Ethan.
"Literally, we couldn't answer emails and phone calls fast enough," Berger said. "I was going out of town a few days later. And in the two hours I was on the airplane flying to Minneapolis, I probably had 35 emails saying ‘What can I do to help?'"
The Bergers have helped a lot, too. They spent nights in the hospital with Ethan. They've cooked meals. They have taken out-of-town Kadish relatives to and from the airport. Laura Berger helped coordinate Eighth Night for Ethan, a major fundraiser, last December. And the Bergers took Zakary Kadish, Ethan's older brother, for his first college visit to Washington University in St. Louis.
It seems like a lot to do for friends, but Berger said the Kadishes are more than that.
The Bergers' son, Zack, is an only child and a close friend of Ethan's. Before Ethan's injury, the Bergers always said he was the only other kid they would consider taking on vacation with them.
"Before his accident, he was such an easy-going kid," Laura Berger said. "When you're like us and the Kadishes and your family doesn't live here, your friends become your family. And they are family."
Julia Weinstein and Alexia Kadish walk together at least once a week. Photo: Emily Maxwell | WCPO
Every morning since Ethan Kadish's injury, Julia Weinstein has sent his mother an email that she tries to make meaningful and uplifting.
It's a small way of showing love and support, but it's the kind of gesture that has made Weinstein the unofficial captain of "Team Alexia."
"Truly there are hundreds on ‘Team Alexia.' But she's just a champ of a friend," Alexia Kadish said. "Even though we had a polar vortex winter, any opportunity she's found to snag me away for a walk, she's been there."
Weinstein's son, Asher, became a close friend and classmate of Ethan's at Rockwern Academy, the Jewish day school in Kenwood where Weinstein is the school librarian.
The two moms became closer friends when Alexia Kadish worked there as a long-term substitute teacher several years ago. Their families also attend the same synagogue – Rockdale Temple.
"I am in total awe of Alexia," Weinstein said. "Even when she doesn't have the strength, she never loses who she is as the most caring, giving, gracious person in the world."
Weinstein and her husband both spent nights with Ethan at Cincinnati Children's Hospital Medical Center. The whole Weinstein family was with the Kadishes when they took Ethan to a Cincinnati Reds game this past Mother's Day.
It was the teen's first ballgame since he got hurt.
Mostly, though, Weinstein tries to encourage Alexia and Scott Kadish to take care of themselves so they can take better care of their children.
"I think their family gives back to everyone in a way that's really remarkable because they're so gracious under any circumstance, and they're so thankful for everything," Weinstein said. "You feel like you're part of making the world a better place when you're helping them."
Rabbi Meredith Kahan (left) and Rabbi Sissy Coran (right) of Rockdale Temple in Amberley Village. Photo: Emily Maxwell | WCPO
Ever since Scott and Alexia Kadish learned their son, Ethan, was struck by lightning, they have leaned on their faith and their rabbis at Rockdale Temple in Amberley Village.
Rabbi Sissy Coran was at the Indianapolis hospital where Ethan was first treated within 24 hours. She stayed overnight with him so his parents could try to sleep at a time when nobody knew if the boy would live or die. She's been an extra set of ears to hear what the doctors say.
Rabbi Meredith Kahan played guitar for Ethan at Cincinnati Children's Hospital Medical Center after he was moved there. She spent nights with him and watched "Remember the Titans" by his bedside. He responded to her cheerful voice less than two weeks after his injury.
They have offered blessings at important holidays and milestones. One was at Cincinnati Children's each Friday to mark Shabbat, the Jewish Sabbath, with the Kadishes during Ethan's long hospital stays.
And they have supported their congregation, made up of scores of friends of the Kadishes and children, like Coran's son, Micah Kraus, who know and love Ethan.
"A tragic event like this could make you lose your faith in God," Coran said. "But for me, and many other rabbis and counselors and community members, to see the incredible power of a community of people who strengthen each other, that gives me faith in God."
Kahan said she has been especially inspired by the way children have responded to Ethan, who is still their friend even though he isn't the same boy who left for camp last summer.
"He's just Ethan. He's part of their community," she said. "It's been a real lesson to me as to what love looks like and what community looks like."
Vanessa Kurtzer picked up Elyse Kadish every Tuesday after school. Photo: Emily Maxwell | WCPO
Vanessa Kurtzer hustled into the kitchen of her Symmes Township home one recent afternoon in May with 11-year-old Elyse Kadish in tow.
Elyse parked her book bag and headed to the bathroom to wash her hands before the after school snack. She asked permission to make a Soda Stream soda and got the OK for diet root beer.
Kurtzer bustled around the kitchen to finish making fresh whipped cream for the strawberries and angel food cake she was serving.
"Oh, I smell the vanilla from here," Elyse said from across the kitchen.
Kurtzer smiled and said, "You're going to love it."
Kurtzer ought to know.
Nearly every Tuesday during this past school year, she picked up Elyse after school and brought her to the Kurtzers' house. Elyse did homework, played, and had dinner with the family – Kurtzer, her daughters Lauren, 15, and Ariela, 12, and husband Jamey, whom Elyse likes to call "Jamey-gail."
It's an inside family joke, and Elyse has become part of the family.
The Kurtzers have helped the Kadishes in many ways since Ethan Kadish was struck by lightning last summer.
But giving Elyse a home away from home has been their biggest gift, said Alexia Kadish, Elyse's mom.
Kurtzer suggested the weekly visits last August. Not only had Ethan been injured, but Elyse also was starting fifth grade at a new school. Kurtzer figured the weekly routine might help Elyse feel settled.
She was amazed by how quickly Elyse felt comfortable with her family because they hadn't been close before.
"She's very flexible about everything. That's what I admire about her," Kurtzer said.
Elyse tore off a hunk of angel food cake and ate it.
"Mmmm," she said, before scooping a strawberry into the homemade cream. "That's good!"
Jen Smilg, the social media manager of Team Ethan. Photo: Emily Maxwell | WCPO
Jen Smilg got the call as the emergency contact listed on Ethan Kadish's summer camp paperwork. When camp staff couldn't reach Ethan's parents immediately after he was struck by lightning, they called Smilg.
"They thought they were calling somebody who was 10 minutes away," Smilg said. Her family moved from Indiana a few years ago, and her cell phone number area code still matched the area code of Ethan's summer camp. "They kept insisting, you need to get (Ethan's parents) here right now."
Her husband, Larry Smilg, drove the Kadishes to the hospital where Ethan had been transported. Jen Smilg packed suitcases for them the next morning and drove to Indianapolis herself after finding friends who could watch her own kids.
Since that awful day, the Smilgs have played many roles as part of Team Ethan – spending nights at the hospital with Ethan, designing and selling Join Team Ethan t-shirts to raise money for medical expenses and helping with Cincy, the Kadish family's dog, to name a few.
Smilg checks all the sites daily, combs through blog posts to make sure they are error free and schedules posts to try to ensure maximum readership and sharing, all in the name of keeping Ethan's story top-of-mind to help him and his family.
"They're our closest friends," she said. "We're in this for life. We all love them, and we're not going anywhere."
Debbie Balk was one of 50 people who slept overnight with Ethan Kadish at Children's Hospital. Photo: Emily Maxwell | WCPO
When Ethan Kadish spent months at Cincinnati Children's Hospital Medical Center – after his initial injury and again after an emergency surgery in December – people like Debbie Balk came to his family's rescue.
Balk was one of more than 50 people who took turns spending sleepless nights with Ethan at the hospital so his parents could spend their nights at home with Zakary and Elyse, Ethan's older brother and younger sister.
"Nights at the hospital with Ethan were not easy nights early on or midway," Alexia Kadish said. "These were lack-of-sleep nights."
Balk was a regular last summer when her own children were away at camp.
She had such a habit of having "good nights" with Ethan that Alexia Kadish dubbed her "Super Debbie."
Balk's daughter had been a classmate of Ethan's at Rockwern Academy, and she knew they both loved musicals. So Balk played show tunes for Ethan from "Les Miserables," "Wicked" and other musicals she knew he liked. She also watched the World Series and football games with him.
"I often joke with him that if he's not good, I'll sing. And I've gotten a smile or two out of that," she said.
Since Ethan has come home from the hospital, Balk and her daughter, Emma, have visited from time to time.
"There's just no rhyme or reason for what happened," she said. "It could happen to anyone. I think people see themselves in the Kadishes."
Ela Shapiro helps prep meals during the week for the Kadish family. Photo: Emily Maxwell | WCPO
After nearly a year outside the Kadish family's Loveland home, the blue Coleman cooler has been retired.
Starting shortly after Ethan was injured last summer, friends and neighbors used the cooler to drop off meals for the Kadish family three times a week. The deliveries scaled back to two times a week in May and June. Alexia Kadish finally convinced her friends to stop the deliveries at the end of this month.
"Some car would drive up, and a man or a woman or one of their kids would get out of that car and take huge amounts of food to the front door and that cooler where they put the food," said Tim Burke, who lives across the street and works from home. "It amazes me how many people have been on that bandwagon."
More than 50 people, in fact, have helped feed the Kadish family over the past year.
Ela Shapiro is one of them. Shapiro's son, Daniel, has been a friend of Ethan's since kindergarten. The families were friends before Ethan's injury but have grown closer over the past year, Shapiro said.
Shapiro's meals had main courses such as beef brisket, beef stew or eggplant parmesan and included a salad, side dish and dessert.
"I totally admire the family for their strength and how they have handled the situation," Shapiro said. "It makes me feel good just making a tiny bit of difference in their life."
Even though the meals have stopped, Shapiro said she wouldn't stop helping.
"They're kind, they're caring, and I think people see that and want to give back," she said of the Kadishes.
"There's a very strong group of people who will always be there for them."
Neighbor Cindy McFadden helps out the Kadish family by taking care of the family dog, Cincy, when needed. Photo: Emily Maxwell | WCPO
Cindy McFadden lives in the same Loveland neighborhood as the Kadish family. She met Scott and Alexia Kadish at a neighborhood gathering 10 or 11 years ago, but she didn't know the family well.
After hearing about Ethan's injury, like so many other people, McFadden wanted to do something.
She got an email from a neighbor listing different ways to help. Right away, she volunteered to take care of Cincy, the Kadish family's beloved West Highland Terrier, and became one of several neighbors whom Alexia Kadish now calls "Team Cincy."
McFadden figures there were some weeks during Ethan's long hospital stay where she kept Cincy three or four days a week, some weeks just a couple of days.
"I'm not the world's greatest cook. Our dog's not with us anymore, and I love dogs. When something like that happens, you just want to help so badly, and you don't know how," she said. "For that family, you feel really privileged to be able to do anything you can for them. They're so grateful for every bit of help, and they're just such a warm and loving family."
McFadden has completed her official "Team Cincy" duties now that Ethan is home and the Kadishes are settling into a family routine.
But the other day she was walking by their house and caught a glimpse of the little white dog staring back at her from a window, wagging her tail.
McFadden knocked on the door and asked Alexia Kadish if Cincy could walk with her.
"Alexia said, ‘Anytime you need a Cincy fix, you call us,'" McFadden said. "She's a sweet dog. She is the cutest little thing ever."
Caryl Mayo, neighbor and nurse, helped the Kadishes with Ethan during his first week home from the hospital. Photo: Emily Maxwell | WCPO
As a friend and neighbor, Caryl Mayo has offered Scott and Alexia Kadish this reassuring advice since Ethan's injury last June: "You'll get the hang of this. You'll figure it out."
As a registered nurse, she has been there to help them do it.
When Ethan left the hospital Jan. 31 after an extended stay, his parents found out they wouldn't have a home health nurse for his first night home.
Their friend Brett Stern called Mayo and asked if she would help. She agreed immediately.
Mayo spent that night at the Kadish house. She stayed up all night to help Ethan's parents monitor his feedings and medicine and provide the kind of care he had been getting at the hospital.
"You just do it," she said. "You just sort of go."
Mayo met the family about 13 years ago when her family moved two doors down from where the Kadishes already lived. Her daughters babysat for the Kadish kids when they were little. They've been friendly neighbors for years.
They've become closer since Ethan's injury. Mayo spent time with Ethan in the hospital when he was there, has cooked meals for the family and has shuttled out-of-town relatives to and from the airport when they visit.
Mayo said she's been impressed by the whole family, from the strength that Ethan has shown during his recovery to the maturity that his older brother, Zakary, has displayed.
"They're a very close-knit family," she said. "I think the hardest thing is everybody always says, ‘What's going to be the outcome?' And I always say, ‘Who knows.' I think Ethan is remarkable in that he's made it this far."
Penny Friedman, an energy healer, attended the same summer camp as Ethan Kadish when she was a child. Photo: Emily Maxwell | WCPO
Penny Friedman was on a genealogical trip in Lithuania last summer when she learned a boy had been struck by lightning at the same summer camp she attended as a child.
Friedman said she knew right away, "I'm supposed to help these people."
She got home and waited and monitored the web page that Ethan Kadish's family had established to update friends and family about his condition.
When Friedman saw that one of her friends had commented on the page, she reached out and asked for an introduction to the Kadishes.
Friedman is an energy healer. She explained energy healing as a complement to traditional medicine that she has used to channel disruptive energy out of Ethan and help him remake the positive connections he needs to heal.
Since August she and her husband, Ron Meyer, have been working with Ethan and his parents, Scott and Alexia Kadish, to help with Ethan's recovery.
Alexia Kadish is a believer. She said there have been many times when a treatment from Friedman and Meyer would put Ethan to sleep "and it would be the most restful sleep he'd had all day."
During a recent treatment, it was clear Ethan enjoyed it. Friedman stood at the head of his bed and placed her hands on either side of his head.
As she talked, Ethan smiled and cooed happily.
"This is feeling good isn't it?" Friedman said to Ethan with a broad smile. "This boy wants to get better. We see people who don't. But this boy, from the very beginning…"
Friedman smiled again when Meyer put it this way: "There is an inner champion in there. I'll tell you that."
Tim Burke, who lives directly across the street, helped the Kadishes remodel their home in time for Ethan's homecoming from the hospital. Photo: Emily Maxwell | WCPO
It didn't take long for Scott and Alexia Kadish to realize their home was not equipped for Ethan once he was ready to leave the hospital.
Ethan's bedroom was on the second floor. There were steps leading into their home's front door and even more steps from the garage to the entrance into the kitchen. None of it would work for a teenager in a wheelchair.
Friends and neighbors called a meeting to figure out how to help. One neighbor got the original architectural plans for the home so the group could figure out what modifications were possible. Local contractors volunteered supplies and services. A volunteer with expertise in handicapped accessible accommodations got involved.
"There was almost nothing purchased for this project," said Tim Burke, who lives across the street from the Kadishes and served as foreman for the remodeling project. "And even the materials that were purchased, there were discounts given."
The team converted a first-floor office into Ethan's new bedroom and added a handicapped accessible shower to what had been an adjacent half bathroom. Steel supports were added under the shower, and electrical work was updated for special lighting in Ethan's new bedroom.
The team also installed a wheelchair lift in the family's garage so Ethan could go from the family van into the house through the kitchen without being exposed to the rain or snow during bad weather.
The job took about 10 weeks to complete, said Burke, who has known the Kadish family since they moved into their house more than 15 years ago. If the work had been done professionally, Burke estimates it would have cost about $35,000.
"It's just what you do to help somebody," he said. "Every single person who walked in that house wanted to do what they could to help the family and help Ethan out. People from all walks of life."
An Eighth Night for Ethan fundraiser was held at Rockwern Academy in Kenwood in December. Photo: Emily Maxwell | WCPO
Many people and organizations have held fundraisers for the Kadish family since Ethan was struck by lightning last summer.
One of the most successful was Eighth Night for Ethan.
At community events here and in other parts of the U.S. and Canada, people gathered on Dec. 4, 2013, the last night of Hanukkah, in support of the Kadish family.
They lit blue candles for Ethan and gave tzedakah, or charitable contributions, to help with the expenses related to his care. Children were encouraged to forego Hanukkah gifts that night and make donations instead.
Julie Torem, a family friend whose daughter, Ellie, is the same age as Ethan's younger sister, Elyse, was on the planning committee for the local event.
"When Ethan got injured, it hit everybody so hard because Ethan is our son," Torem said. "All of our kids go to camp. All of our kids like playing outside."
Ethan's older brother, Zakary, and his sister, Elyse, were their family's representatives at the Eighth Night event held at Rockwern Academy in Kenwood. Their parents, Scott and Alexia Kadish, were at Cincinnati Children's Hospital Medical Center with Ethan, who was undergoing emergency surgery to repair a hole in his small intestine.
The various Eighth Night for Ethan events raised about $60,000 for the Kadish family last year.
Plans are in the works to make Eighth Night for Ethan an annual event.
Ethan continues to need home health nurses and therapies that insurance doesn't cover completely.
"These are such good people," Torem said. "I think it's a testament to their family that the community has gathered like it has."
The Home Run Derby was held last fall at Loveland Middle School to help raise money for the Kadish family. Photo: Emily Maxwell | WCPO
After the first season Carl Huether coached Ethan Kadish on his Loveland Youth Baseball Organization team, he knew the boy was a player he wanted to keep.
"He was the most positive kid I'd ever met," said Huether, whose son, Matt, plays on the team, too. "Super easy to deal with. Super easy to coach. Just a great kid to have on your team."
Ethan had just finished his fourth season playing for Huether when he went to Indiana for camp last summer. That's where he was struck by lightning. Ethan's father, Scott Kadish, called Huether to tell him what happened.
"It was a shock when we initially saw Ethan," said Maggie Huether, the coach's wife. "Ethan has such a great and strong personality. And to see him where he couldn't event interact with anyone, it was just horrible."
The Huethers wanted to do something to help the Kadish family, and they wanted it to revolve around Ethan's love for baseball. They held the Ethan Kadish Home Run Derby last October with a silent auction to raise money for the family's ongoing medical expenses.
The event raised more than $20,000 and was such a success that the Huethers are planning another home run derby to be held Sept. 28.
They're excited to help, but Carl Huether said it was tough not having Ethan on the team this season. Although Ethan couldn't play, the Huethers ordered him a shirt with his number 19 on it.
"We hope that at some point he will be able to come and attend a game," Maggie Huether said. "There will always be a spot for Ethan."
To become a sponsor or donate items for the home run derby's silent auction, email email@example.com.
The Moskowitz family of Detroit, Michigan organized the 5K Run/Walk for Ethan where they helped raise $40,000 for the Kadishes. Photo: Justin Munter
Asher and Nathan Moskowitz were playing ultimate Frisbee just 30 feet away when Ethan Kadish was struck by lightning at camp last summer. Their sister, Ellie, was even closer.
The twin boys later told their dad about the grass, blackened and smoldering, after it happened. One wrote in a postcard to his parents that it was the scariest day of his life. The other wrote, "I'm really worried about my friend, and I don't know what to do."
"It comes and goes, how much they're able to talk about it and talk about Ethan," said Rabbi Michael Moskowitz, the boys' father. "Everyone did everything right. And yet something catastrophic still happened."
The boys and their sister went back home to suburban Detroit after camp. As the brothers thought about the service project for their bar mitzvah, they decided they wanted to do something to help Ethan. Their mom, Leslie, suggested a 5K run and walk. The family spent months organizing the 5K Fun Run/Walk for Ethan, held March 8, 2013, the day after the boys' bar mitzvah service.
Despite snow, ice and miserably cold temperatures that day, more than 400 people participated. Many others pledged online.
In all, the boys and their event raised more than $40,000 to help pay for Ethan's ongoing medical expenses, their father said.
"For us, it's very personal because the boys were right there," Moskowitz said. "Alexia and Scott could be my wife and me. Our boys were that close. Our daughter, too."
Moskowitz said he thinks that's why Ethan's story has touched so many people and inspired them to help.
"These things rock our faith," he said. "They shake it to the core, and there are no answers. But when we're still here, we have to ask what we can do to help."
Bruce Baker and Julie Kantor of Wise Temple held school fundraisers to help raise money for the Kadish family. Emily Maxwell | WCPO
It had been more than a month since Ethan Kadish was struck by lightning. Expenses were mounting, and leaders at Isaac M. Wise Temple in Amberley wanted to help.
Although the Kadishes attend Rockdale Temple, several families in the Wise congregation were friends with Ethan and his family. And many had connections to Goldman Union Camp Institute, the Jewish summer camp in Zionsville, Ind. where Ethan was injured.
Bruce Baker, president of Wise Temple, and Julie Kantor, a board member, spoke with the children in the temple's religious school and told them about Ethan's injury. Each week the children bring money for tzedakah collection, a contribution that teaches the importance of charity as the right thing to do.
Baker and Kantor told the children the following week's tzedakah collection would be donated to the Kadish family to help with their expenses.
"We sent a note home with the parents. And we asked our women's organization if they would match the funds," said Rabbi Lewis Kamrass, senior rabbi at Wise Temple. The 350 children in kindergarten through 8th grade at the religious school typically collect $200 or $300 a week. Kamrass figured maybe they would collect $1,000 for Ethan.
Instead the children brought $6,000. The women's organization matched it. The men's club organized a silent auction that raised another $1,700. And when Kamrass sent a letter to the congregation to tell how generous the children had been, adults in the congregation gave another $17,000 in the following weeks.
In all, the Wise congregation gave the Kadish family a check for $31,000 in March.
"I hope it will be an example to other Jewish congregations, synagogues and churches," Kamrass said. "The example is not what we did. The example is how easy it can be when people know the story and feel a connection to that."
WCPO reporter Lucy May and WCPO photojournalist Emily Maxwell are following the progress of Ethan Kadish as he continues to recover from being struck by lightning on June 29, 2013.
Ethan's Story: The Power of Community is the third installment.
Stories by Lucy May.
Photos by Emily Maxwell, unless otherwise noted.
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