Syracuse University Magazine

eyai_family.jpg

Eyal Sherman '09

Lessons of Faith and Learning

When he was just 4 years old, the unthinkable happened to Eyal Sherman. After surgery for a lesion on his brain stem, he suffered a stroke, leaving him a quadriplegic and vent dependent. His mind, however, was still intact. Eyal was the same bright, curious boy who had been wheeled into an operating room just days before. The year was 1986.    

Eyal’s parents, Rabbi Charles and Leah Sherman of Syracuse, were determined to help create the best life possible for their young son. A key component of that mission was making it possible for Eyal to pursue his education, no matter the obstacles. Twenty-three years later, Eyal graduated from SU, earning a bachelor’s degree in fine arts.

Charles Sherman writes of his journey with Eyal in The Broken and the Whole, Discovering Joy after Heartbreak: Lessons from a Life of Faith (Scribner). Using his personal experience as a springboard, Sherman explores universal questions about doubt and faith, and the slow, gradual process of moving from anger to acceptance, from sorrow to joy. The book, which was published in March, has received early, critical acclaim. Kirkus Review called it “A meaningful portrayal of how tragedy affected and transformed one family and especially one religious leader. Deeply moving, extraordinarily thought-provoking and entirely humane.”

Sherman also shares with readers Eyal’s love of learning and his determination to attend and succeed at Syracuse University. “We’d started off just happy that he was alive,” says Sherman, referring to those early dark days following Eyal’s stroke. After some 18 months in hospitals, Eyal was able to come home. He had missed years of school. “Then we started using the word ‘if,’” Sherman says. “What if Eyal could go to a school a few hours a week? When he finished elementary school, what if he could continue on to middle school, to high school?”

When Eyal graduated from Nottingham High School in the Syracuse City School District, the family began talking about college. “What kind of message would we be sending to Eyal if his four siblings could go to college and he couldn’t?” Sherman says. The family sat down with Nancy Rothschild ’76, G’84, associate dean of admissions at SU, who encouraged Eyal. “The University was able to look at the total person,” Sherman says. “They made a commitment to help Eyal have this experience.” Some of that involved pure logistics, such as ensuring that paths leading to academic buildings were cleared of snow. But just as important was allowing Eyal to explore different academic areas with professors and fellow students welcoming him, as well as his mother and a nurse who both accompanied him to classes. 

Admitted to the College of Arts and Sciences, Eyal pursued his studies through University College (UC), which provided more flexibility in his coursework. The Shermans worked closely with UC Dean Bea Gonzalez G’04 and academic advisor Emileen Butler ’00. After close to a decade of study, Eyal graduated to a standing ovation and the cheers of family and friends. While a student at UC, Eyal blossomed as an artist, painting with a brush held in his mouth. “What I appreciated as a parent was that no one at SU ever told us, ‘It can’t be done,’” Sherman recalls. “That’s unusual for an institution. What everybody said was ‘What can we do to make this happen?’ The real beauty of it is that people treated him as a student, as a regular kind of kid. That’s what most people want to be.”     —Kathleen Curtis