Jack Silver of Woodcliff Lake had an emergency appendectomy in August.
The high school athlete expected a quick return to good health — but blood tests in the hospital revealed something amiss.
By November 12, Jack had been diagnosed with two serious bone marrow disorders: myelodysplastic syndrome and acute myeloid leukemia.
The 16-year-old Pascack Hills varsity baseball player spent 33 days in Sanzari Children’s Hospital of Hackensack University Medical Center for the first round of treatment and now he is back for Round 2. Throughout this ordeal, he’s been cheered on by “fans” from near and far.
“When he left for the hospital in November, in the rain at night, there were about 15 kids outside our house to wave him goodbye,” Jack’s father, Michael, said. “And when he went back to the hospital December 22, his baseball team paraded in front of our house.”
The entire student body signed a huge get-well banner featuring a picture of Jack on the pitcher’s mound, and the principal, Timothy Wieland, brought it to the Silvers’ house.
Jack’s family, friends, and the Woodcliff Lake community spearheaded several extraordinary initiatives to give an emotional boost to Jack and to benefit others battling these diseases as well as to help medical research.
Jack’s sister Jayme, 19, created an Instagram account,
@jack.strong2, to share inspirational pictures and updates on his progress. Within days, thousands of followers — not only school and camp friends but also pro athletes, entertainers, and others who never met Jack — were posting daily messages and videos of encouragement.
“Sometimes I have bad days when I don’t feel well or I’m coming back for chemo, and then I remember the videos and see all the people who follow the account and it makes me happy and makes me want to fight this,” Jack said. “My sister is the best, and I appreciate all that she’s done.”
Mark Cuban, owner of the Dallas Mavericks basketball team, threw a mountain of motivation Jack’s way by inviting him to come to a game as soon as he’s able. “I want to do that so badly,” Jack said.
The most frequently asked question from followers was how they could help.
In response, the Silver family created a #jackstrong campaign on the Custom Ink website, selling $18 t-shirts sporting the message “Strike Out MDS and Leukemia.” As of December 25, more than $38,000 had been raised through these sales. The family is donating all proceeds, after costs, to Tackle Kids Cancer, the Jillian Fund, MDS Foundation, and the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society.
Tackle Kids Cancer, benefiting pediatric cancer research and patient care programs at Hackensack University Medical Center’s Joseph M. Sanzari Children’s Hospital and at Jersey Shore University Medical Center’s K. Hovnanian Children’s Hospital, has a partnership with the New York Giants. This organization arranged Zoom encounters for Jack with retired Giants quarterback Eli Manning and Mets pitcher Dellin Betances.
Jack also expressed appreciation to Rabbi Yosef Orenstein, head of the Valley Chabad Teen Leadership Initiative and its CTeen social and volunteer group. Jack has been an active board member of CTeen and volunteered at Friendship Circle, a worldwide Chabad program providing companionship to children and young adults with special needs in their communities.
“As soon as we heard about Jack’s diagnosis, it sent a shock through our entire CTeen chapter,” Rabbi Orenstein said.
“Jack was always there for others with a smile and kind word. Everyone feels good spending time around him. The teens’ immediate reaction was: ‘How can we help? What can we do to help him beat this?’
“At a Zoom meeting, an idea was raised to start a mitzvah campaign where people can pledge a mitzvah as a message of support for Jack. The website Mitzvahforjack.com was launched, and within a few weeks collected nearly 250 mitzvahs from people around town and from complete strangers across the world.”
On Chanukah, Valley Chabad’s executive director, Rabbi Dov Drizin, invited Michael and Jayme Silver to light the town menorah in the presence of Woodcliff Lake’s mayor and council. Hundreds more watched online. “It really made me feel good,” said Jack, who watched from the hospital with his mother, Leslie.
“CTeen International created a video montage from teens all over the world wishing Jack well and happy Chanukah,” Rabbi Orenstein said. “Most of them never meet him but were connected by his commitment to CTeen.
“For us, it’s our small way of giving back to Jack and lending him a moral boost and blessings as he fights off this terrible illness. We can’t wait till he is back again!”
The Silvers have lived in Woodcliff Lake for 20 years and belong to Temple Emanuel of the Pascack Valley. Both Jayme and Jack have been classroom aides at the synagogue’s religious school.
Leslie Silver — whose parents, Dr. Richard and Francine Winters, are longstanding members of the Jewish Community Center of Paramus/Congregation Beth Tikvah — said that Emanuel’s Rabbi Loren Monosov, Cantor Alan Sokoloff, and educational director Rabbi Shelley Kniaz have been in constant touch, saying the mi-sheberach prayer for healing and “coming to the backyard in the cold to sit and talk to us.”
“To know there is literally an army behind us is fulfilling to the point of tears,” Mr. Silver said. “Our friends have been helping us with errands and food shopping since Leslie and I take turns staying with Jack in the hospital. We switch off every 24 hours.”
Some members of the community even organized fundraisers for charity in Jack’s name, including an online Zumba session and two Peloton fundraisers.
“People have been so good to us, and our family’s fundraiser is our way to give back to the world, to support cancer research and families of sick children who can’t afford to pay the bills,” Mr. Silver said.
Jayme and Jack’s best friend, Jesse Belnick, both said that at first Jack was overwhelmed by all the attention — “he’s humble and modest and it was a lot to absorb,” his sister said — but she added that her brother came to greatly appreciate the daily messages of support.
“Seeing how many people are there for him, including so many people he looks up to, has helped him get though difficult treatments,” Jesse said. “It brings him up and makes him happy and that’s the most important thing.”
Jayme agreed. “I know he looks forward to the videos,” she said. “I watch him on FaceTime as he opens them and smiles. He posted on his Instagram ‘Ready for Round 2,’ to show people how strong he is.”
Mr. Silver said his son is the type of person who is the life of the party and has an easy rapport with people of all ages. He loves sports, movies, music, and the family’s two pet pugs.
“Jack has a great attitude even now,” he said. “When he feels good, he’s on FaceTime with friends or playing video games in Xbox with multiple kids. He’s not a complainer. We constantly tell him how proud we are of him, and he is getting wonderful support from the nurses and doctors in Hackensack.”
Ms. Silver said the “unbelievable outpouring from family, friends, and communities from all over is unbelievable, overwhelming and heartwarming at the same time. Jack feels very supported and loved. He’s a warrior and he knows he is going to make it through and get back on the pitcher’s mound.”