The Boy Who Left Everyone Speechless

Rabbis Charles Sherman and his daughter, Nogah Marshall.

— by Bonnie Squires

When Rabbi Charles Sherman’s son, Eyal, was 4 years old, a tumor was discovered in his brain stem.

Despite the severe consequences of a stroke following his initial surgery, leaving the boy unable to move or speak, Eyal’s brain remained as active as ever. Even though his vocal chords were paralyzed, he could mouth words, and his family, especially his mother, have learned to read his lips.

With the devotion of his family, and innumerable trips to doctors’ offices and hospitals, Eyal was graduated from high school and then from Syracuse University.

Rabbi Sherman’s book, The Broken and the Whole: Discovering Joy after Heartbreak, tells the story of the decades-long struggle to create a fulfilling life for Eyal.

Last week, Rabbi Sherman was the kick-off speaker in the series Open a Book… Open Your Mind created by the Sisterhood of Har Zion Temple and the Jane Fishman Grinberg Religious School in Penn Valley. All through March and April, various authors will be giving talks and signing books at the synagogue.

More after the jump.
It was a homecoming of sorts for the Syracuse, New York-based rabbi. His wife Leah had grown up at Har Zion, they had been married by Rabbi Gerald Wolpe at the synagogue, and their daughter, Rabbi Nogah Marshall, currently serves as an education director at Har Zion.

The book, like Sherman’s talk, floats back and forth between the initial illness, the months of Eyal’s being in a coma at NYU Hospital, and the artist Eyal has become today, holding a paintbrush between his teeth.

Sherman constantly wrestles with guilt and holding onto his faith, but he has arrived, after decades of self-work, at a place where he is comfortable with his G-d and with himself.

Sherman told me about a home-bound tutor, sent by the New York School District, to work with Eyal when he was in a coma. She came by bus every day to the hospital for the months that Eyal was there, and she cleared the room and spoke to Eyal, even though he was unresponsive.

One week, Sherman recalled, she brought a drum to the hospital room, and banged on it right next to Eyal’s head, teaching him the history and uses of the instrument. Until that time, Rabbi Sherman said, whenever he visited a member of his congregation in a vegetative state, he would talk to the doctor, the nurses, the family members, but never to the patient.

One day, however, Eyal finally woke up from his coma and mouthed these words: “Who was that woman with the damn drum?” Rabbi Sherman learned that there is still a person inside there, and we all need to speak to the patient.

The frankness of the challenges that both his son, his family and he himself have faced through the decades is admirable. And the strength of his faith, despite the frailties of his son’s condition, is inspiring. The Broken and the Whole: Discovering Joy after Heartbreak has lessons for all of us.


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