When two 12-year-old girls found out that their mutual childhood friend, Gabe Patnoi of Demarest, was diagnosed with bone cancer, they decided to sell blue plastic bracelets emblazoned with the hashtag #GABEsGotThis.
That’s just one of several ways the greater community has come out in force to support the Patnoi family since Gabe, who also is 12, was diagnosed, in November, with an illness that demands expensive treatment, not all of it covered by insurance.
This Saturday night, January 19, the men’s club of the Patnoi family’s synagogue, Temple Emanu-El of Closter, will hold the “Community Night of Togetherness,” featuring music — a rock band from Temple Sinai in Tenafly — and comedy — by Joel Chasnoff. The evening is open to the public. (See box below.)
Temple Emanu-El’s president, Fran Weingast, said that the evening’s proceeds will benefit the family as well as a general fund the congregation makes available to member families facing illness or financial difficulties.
“The community has rallied around the Patnoi family,” she said. “This is what we do frequently; our community has always been there to help families that need us.”
“I have had the chance to get to know Gabe really well through the course of this illness,” Emanu-El’s senior rabbi, David-Seth Kirshner, said. “He is a sweet, gentle, good kid who cares about the things most 12-year-old boys care about, sports and video games. He’s really worried that this illness will impede his bar mitzvah training, but we have assured him that it won’t.
“Sadly, we have done this in a different way for so many people in the community,” Rabbi Kirshner added soberly. “He unfortunately is not the first kid in the community to be sick and he is not the last. And he wouldn’t be the first adult or the last one, either. As a result we have done all sorts of program and events — meet-and-greets and special activities at Yankees games and other things that contribute to helping them feel better. This is also a moment of pride for us, that we can continue to do this for people in our community.”
Many other friends and neighbors of the Patnoi family sprang into action as soon as they heard the news of Gabe’s diagnosis.
Mark Goldstein, whose daughter is a classmate of Gabe’s, rallied his partners in the Section 16H Group, a local philanthropy, to raise money for the Patnois in conjunction with a December fundraising event that already was in the planning stages. They raised close to $81,000, and even subtracting expenses that leaves about $78,000 — some of which already has gone toward paying Gabe’s medical bills.
“We had this event scheduled, but after Mark asked that we make it for the Patnois, it exploded,” Section 16H Group board member Dr. Brian Wraith of Woodcliff Lake said. “We probably would have raised $2,000, but the entire Demarest community really rallied for Gabe and we provided a vehicle for their desire to be charitable.”
The remaining funds will go toward supporting the family within the legal parameters of what the nonprofit is permitted to do. One of the expenses they may help with is the cost of lodging near Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center in Manhattan, where Gabe is being treated with chemotherapy, radiation, and surgery for a rare form of bone cancer called Ewing sarcoma.
David Plotkin is another of the family’s neighbors and friends. He is the chairman of the Max Cure Foundation of Englewood Cliffs, which funds research for the development of pediatric cancer drug therapies; financially assists low-income, military, and first-responder families battling cancer in their children, and advocates for legislation benefitting children with cancer.
The foundation is running a crowdfunding campaign called “NeverGabeUp” (maxcure.rallybound.org/nevergabeup/Donate). Its goal is to raise $50,000, primarily for the Patnois. Some of the proceeds will be shared with other families across the country the foundation is supporting.
The Max Cure Foundation’s crowdfunding page describes Gabe as a preteen who loves hanging out with friends, playing sports and video games, writing poetry, and being “an amazing big brother to his 9-year-old sister Jordyn.”
Other friends created a Facebook page under the hashtag #neverGABEup to publicize additional ways to support the family and the fight against childhood cancer. Among other initiatives by local businesses was a sale of t-shirts and hoodies sporting the #neverGABEup logo donated by a friend in the printing business, and special events at BodyBurn Barre in Tenafly and at Orange Theory Fitness in Closter.
Brooke Bokser of Closter and Emma Darche of Tenafly, who have been friends with Gabe since preschool, launched their #GABEsGotThis bracelet campaign “to increase awareness and support for the Patnoi family and Gabe,” Brooke’s mother, Venessa, said.
“By wearing a bracelet, Gabe is always in our thoughts and prayers.”
The girls will be celebrating becoming bat mitzvah this spring, Brooke at Temple Emanu-El and Emma at Temple Sinai.
“We advertised the bracelets by making an Instagram account in November,” Brooke said. “All the money goes to Gabe, and we’ve raised a nice amount.”
The $3 bracelets were popular among campers and counselors at Camp Westmont in the Poconos, where Gabe is a summer camper. The Demarest Parent Teacher Organization bought bracelets as holiday gifts for all the teachers in the borough’s elementary and middle schools. They’re also sold in the Demarest Deli.
“We had to reorder three times,” Vanessa Bokser said. “The first 600 sold out immediately. We now have 100 left, and we are selling by request only.”
The Jewish Standard was unable to reach Gabe’s parents, Evan and Bari Patnoi, but the Max Cure Foundation reports: “There has been an unbelievable amount of love and support in such a short period of time by so many living in the Demarest, Cresskill, Alpine, Tenafly, and New York area. The Patnoi family truly appreciates everyone’s love and support.”
What: A Community Night of Togetherness presented by the Men’s Club of Temple Emanu-El of Closter, with music by Sinai Sessions Rock Band and standup comedy by Joel Chasnoff
Why: To benefit the Patnoi family and a Temple Emanu-El Fund for families facing illness and need
Where: Temple Emanu-El of Closter, 180 Piermont Road
When: January 19, 7:30 p.m.
How much: $90 per person (adults only) including food and open bar