In the winter of 2001, however, Lili began noticing differences in her youngest child. Eli was cranky, he frequently got lost and disoriented, his ears hurt. Not long after, the family received news of Eli’s fatal tumor. “I remember the doctor saying to me, ‘your kid has the worst tumor, in the worst place, with the worst prognosis.’”
Eli battled this tumor for the next 13 months, although you wouldn’t have known it. His generosity and luminescence couldn’t be extinguished even by a fatal diagnosis. Always more concerned with the happiness of those around him, Eli insisted on dressing up like Santa Claus for his radiation appointments in the effort of cheering up the doctors and nurses. “He was enduring six weeks of torturous radiation therapy, but he was more worried about the morale of those who were giving him the drugs. That was my Eli,” says Lili.
During his last year Eli and his family spent many memorable hours at the JCC, playing by the pool and enjoying time with friends. “During Eli’s last summer, we sort of lived at the JCC. Because of his tumor he wasn’t swimming as well, but he walked around with this massive grin on his face. People had no idea he had a fatal diagnosis.”
It is because of these memories at the JCC that Lili and her family decided to make a dedication of a piece of artwork to the J, in memory of Eli. Using funds they had saved for his college tuition, the Perlman family commissioned Lonnie Hanzon, installation artist and storyteller, to create a mural to embody Eli’s spirit and light.
“Lonnie is like a magician,” Lili states. “We showed him some poetry we wrote about Eli, we showed him a quilt his classmates made for him. We told him his classmates believed he had turned into a shooting star. And Lonnie created this masterpiece, so that Eli can live on in this community.”