JDAIM Spotlight 3 – Kenny Hersh

We welcome our colleague (and Rabbi Hersh’s brother-in-law), Rabbi Michael Fel, as our guest writer for the third Spotlight in honor of #JDAIM, Jewish Disabilities Awareness and Inclusion Month.
Rabbis Scheff and Drill

michael-fel
The Binding of Isaac and the Power of Positive Thinking

On the second day of Rosh Hashanah, we read the Akeidah, the binding of Isaac. A moment where a father nearly sacrifices his son. A moment after which neither father nor son speak again. A moment after which time is demarcated before and after that moment. The Torah picks up on an interesting detail in the life of Isaac. Chapter 27 states: וַיְהִי כִּי-זָקֵן יִצְחָק, וַתִּכְהֶיןָ עֵינָיו מֵרְאֹת – And it came to pass when Isaac was old, and his eyes were dimmed from seeing. Why were they dim? Explains one commentary, they were dim from the tears shed while Isaac was on the altar. Those are the same tears we shed when we are wronged by another. They are the tears shed from strained relationships. The same tears when we’ve been betrayed. His tears are our tears. And yet Hagar and her child, Ishmael, survive. They became a great and mighty nation. Hagar wipes her tears and continues on with her life. Isaac too, survives. He goes on to marry Rebekah, start a family, and serve as the next link in the history of the Jewish people. They move forward.

In this mission to remain positive, I want to acknowledge that there are certain situations when grief is deep and time is a key component in the healing. And I also want to acknowledge that there are instances when a positive disposition is not enough.

I’d like to share with you the power of positive thinking and the importance of seeing the good. I’d like to share with you the story of my father-in-law, Kenny Hersh. As a child growing up in New Jersey and, later in life, in Providence, Kenny was someone who took full advantage of every day. He trained and ran 5Ks, was the first one on the dance floor at a simhah, played clarinet in a klezmer band, could manually mix paints at work to match any color, and volunteered at his shul. He was an incredible father, a loving husband to his wife Leah, and for better or worse, a Yankees fan. After working as a high school guidance counselor for a few years, Kenny eventually joined Leah’s family business, American Wallpaper in Fall River, MA. After a series of inexplicable falls and some problems with his coordination, Kenny visited medical experts in Providence and Boston. Through a series of tests, Kenny was diagnosed with Primary Lateral Sclerosis, PLS. A degenerative neurological condition that weakens voluntary muscles. Although relieved to finally have a diagnosis, the condition would mean increasing difficulty with basic tasks like walking, eating, and speaking.

That was more than 10 years ago. And yet, despite the challenges, despite the muscle stiffness, despite the difficulty speaking, despite the mobility issues, despite the fact that he often communicates through his ipad, despite the slips and falls on to icy sidewalks, despite that nearly everything takes longer and can be more frustrating, Kenny continues to be an unstoppable and unignorable presence in our family.

Whether you just met Kenny or you’ve known him all your life, it takes only a few minutes and a few keystrokes to appreciate Kenny’s charm, his humor, his kindness, his compassion, and his intelligence. Kenny continues to go to the gym, using the stair climber to reach the top of a 110-story building every week. Kenny continues to, despite all logic, drive and put in a day’s work at the family business. Kenny continues to be a comedic force at family meals, Kenny continues to be an ezer knegdo, a perfect partner to his wife Leah, a wise and loving parent to his six children and children-in-law, and perhaps most importantly, the most playful and treat-giving saba to his eight grandchildren. Rather than wallow in his sadness, Kenny makes the most out of every day, with a spirit and a love of life that is enviable.

I recently asked Kenny, if he ever got frustrated. “Of course! There are things I miss, but the thing that I find most frustrating is the inability to speak. I love to talk and that is frustrating. I would trade off being in a wheelchair to be able to speak freely again. It is especially hard dealing with my wonderful grandchildren. I would love to be able to read to Nadav and Eliana in English, Spanish, or Hebrew. What joy I miss in not being able to sing with them and talk with them. What a pleasure it would be to walk with them on the beach and swim with them; to run with them, to fly a kite with them and crawl on the floor with them. As I have seen with Micah, [his 7-year-old grandchild], once he was able to read, our relationship really grew as we were able to laugh together and have a “conversation.” I look forward to the day when I can do that with all my grandchildren. I think that there are choices when put in a situation like this: crawl under the covers and hibernate or try to work around the challenges and move forward and enjoy an exciting life. I choose the latter. I don’t want a pity party, but just the realization that I am still the same person I always was, but with a disability. I have so much to be thankful for and get inner strength from my wife, children, and grandchildren. They make me want to push the envelope to be an important part of their lives. Our friends and community in Providence and around the country give me support and make me feel included as an intelligent and mindful part of their lives. And of course, having fun and being able to laugh makes this ride much easier.”

My friends, I do not deny that there are problems in the world. I do not deny that there are times when we feel that we have insurmountable challenges. And I do not deny that at times we have to embrace that sadness. But in 5777, I implore you to also look for the positive in the world. Just by the virtue of where and when we live we are blessed with so much. It is okay to not be burdened by sorrow all the time. It is okay to focus on the positive. Not because we need to ignore the negative. Adarabah, to the contrary, because it is only by recognizing the good that we can tackle the bad. It is only by crying that we can feel the joy more deeply. It is only by rejoicing, that we can be there to understand someone’s sorrow more deeply. Let us cry together. Let us rejoice together. Let us feel the full spectrum of human emotion in the new year.

Rabbi Michael Fel

This is an excerpt from an article published in the Times of Israel. The original article can be found at this link: http://blogs.timesofisrael.com/staying-positive-through-pls-and-prosthetics/

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One response to “JDAIM Spotlight 3 – Kenny Hersh”

  1. J. Scott (Yitzchak) says :

    As I used to be Hard of Hearing, I find that being totally Deaf quite a challenge. However, that does not stop me from living my usual day to day activities. Of course, I miss music and being to sing. I still have my sense of humor and remain in touch with my hearing friends, especially with OJC members and Rabbi Drill. I can say one of many blessings given to me is that I still have my sign language skills.

    I commend Kenny Hersh’s ability to remain positive despite his speech problems. His being blessed with joy sheds a light unto all of us.

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