Fourteen-year-old Owen Weinstein succumbs to cancer

Owen Weinstein

In his all-too-short life, Owen Weinstein was known as a kid who met challenges head on, whose charisma lit up the room, who was well spoken and had a big smile. At his bar mitzvah, suffering from the cancer that would later claim his life, he broke into laughter in the middle of the service, enchanting all those sharing in the event.

Cancer claimed Owen’s life on Sept. 12, at the age of 14.

Delivering a eulogy at Owen’s funeral, Rabbi Baruch Frydman-Kohl of Toronto’s Beth Tzedec Congregation remembered Owen as “a hero. He constantly faced adversity straight on, with determination and courage.

“Imbued with an old soul, aware of the precious and precarious nature of life, Owen tested the limits with his boarding, bicycling, skiing stunts that were frightening and Owen-awesome.”

In his eulogy, Owen’s father, Peter Weinstein, said he was as “an adrenaline junkie” who “had no fear.”

“He would do any sport as long as it involved some risks,” he said.


Even at six months, while standing on the window sill of the family’s front bay windows, his fearlessness prompted neighbours to call, worried that he would fall.

When he was older, he bent the training wheels of his bicycle, so he could “off-road” on the family’s front lawn.

Later, when he was seven, he took up skateboarding and rock climbing.

“Owen was, and always will be, remembered as a bright, sincere, adventurous, outgoing boy with an infectious laugh,” Peter Weinstein said.

Yakov Fruchter, Beth Tzedec’s director of community building and spiritual engagement, recalled Owen as “adventurous, super sweet, incredibly charismatic and grateful for what he had.”

Despite his illness, he was a giving person, serving as a spokesperson for The Hospital for Sick Children (SickKids) and addressing a variety of audiences, in support of the medical facility, Fruchter said.

He was certainly not defined by his cancer, but it highlighted his incredible qualities.
– Yakov Fruchter

“He was certainly not defined by his cancer, but it highlighted his incredible qualities,” Fruchter added.

Owen was diagnosed with Philadelphia chromosome-positive acute lymphoblastic leukemia, a high-risk form of the disease, in 2014, when he was nine.

Rounds of chemotherapy followed and, in 2016, his treatment ended.

About a year later, his cancer returned, just before he was scheduled to have his bar mitzvah.

After further treatments, he was released from hospital and was able to complete his bar mitzvah.

“My fear was (that) his bar mitzvah would be a pity party. It did not turn out that way. Owen carried the whole service,” his mother, Lesly Weinstein, said at the time.

She credited her son’s positive attitude and good spirits.

Indeed, during his dvar Torah, Owen broke out laughing.

My fear was that his bar mitzvah would be a pity party. It did not turn out that way.
– Lesly Weinstein

“He laughed so hard. For a minute, he couldn’t stop laughing. He was crying and laughing at the same time,” said Fruchter, who presided over the ceremony.

Cantor Sidney Ezer, who was Owen’s bar mitzvah tutor, visited Owen at SickKids, to prepare him for the event.

Despite his illness, “he buckled down and continued his studies. He took his responsibilities to study. Everything he did, he put his mind to it and did it well,” Ezer said.

“In thinking about what to say about Owen, I do not want to leave an impression that he should be defined by his cancer,” Peter Weinstein said. “I would rather think that when he was nine years old and was originally diagnosed, he was faced with a terrible disease that is difficult to treat. He made the best of a bad situation and all of us thought this would pass. He went through all of the treatments with a smile, without complaining, and he developed relationships with many people throughout SickKids, including the doctors, nurses, admin staff, parents and technicians.

“Owen was such a fighter throughout. Over the course of his treatment, he received more than 2,500 bravery beads, (one) for each procedure. Owen also spent more than 400 nights in the hospital over the last five years.

“Owen went through this journey with grace, dignity and an appreciation for those around him. There was no complaining, only a desire to move forward. There is not one of us here today that could not learn from Owen’s actions in the hospital.”