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“I’m No Hero”

Azriela Jaffe

Disease may have robbed Dr. Joseph Sherr of the use of his muscles, but it has never stopped him from having a full life. Yet, he refuses to see himself as a hero. If words must be used to describe him, he much prefers these: husband, father, breadwinner, friend.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

heroThe first time I meet Dr. Joseph Sherr in hisHighland Park,New Jerseyhome, I felt guilty. It isn’t just the sight of all the physical apparatus that surrounds him and keeps him alive — the wheelchair, the tube that connects him to a ventilator, the constant whirr of the machines.  It is the realization of how much time and effort he has already invested in this interview, before it has even begun.

We arranged the date and time through an exchange of emails. When I received his perfectly spelled and punctuated replies, it never occurred to me to wonder how a man whose body is paralyzed due to a devastating, progressive disease called facioscapulohumeral dystrophy (FSH or FSHD), and has no use of his arms, hands, or legs, could write those messages.

Now, I do wonder. But during my three-hour conversation with Dr. Sherr, Esther Sherr — his wife of 26 years, and their son Ephraim, a college student recently returned from yeshivah in Israel, I realize that I have to shift my focus.  Yes, it’s fascinating to see his “Eyegaze” computer keyboard — which allows Joey, as he is known to his family and friends, to “type” through a process where he stares at a letter and the signal is transmitted to the computer; and a demonstration of how it works shows just how much determination a person has to have to master the tedious, painstaking process.  But as we speak, it becomes clear that any attempt to elevate Joey to hero status because of his suffering makes him exceedingly uncomfortable; it’s not his truth. First and foremost he is a husband and father, and with his doctorate in math, a career man who has provided well for his family for the last 20-plus years. He is also a shul member, a chavrusa, and a friend to many. In other words, he thinks of himself as a regular guy (albeit a brilliant one, by all standards). He can’t fathom why a magazine like Mishpacha would find his story worth writing about.


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