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The Shermans: an eternal orchard

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Barry, right, and Honey Sherman.

The Shermans are gone and their family is suffering. Meanwhile, we, the Jewish people, have lost two precious leaders of our community.

I first heard the unsettling news when a friend called and told me that he heard on the news that Barry and Honey Sherman had been found dead in their home. “No, it couldn’t be,” I replied. “I’ll call you back.” I needed to verify their deaths with people who were close to them. I called my friend Mark, a man central to much of the goings-on in the Toronto Jewish community. He said it was true. The reality began to seep in the way bad news does – first my stomach dropped, then I had a moment of emotional paralysis. I had to speak with Eli, who knew them from shul. “Yes,” he said, “they are gone.”

Oh God!

Time passed slowly those first few days and the Shermans were all many people could think of. We were in shock. A sort of nausea set in. We read the newspapers over and over, hoping to discover something – anything – we could find comfort in. We listened to the eulogies. They were so elegant and so heart-breaking.

Shortly thereafter, the Toronto Jewish community began to personalize the Shermans’ deaths by recalling our own interactions with them. So many of us had stories to tell. We all knew the Shermans’ public persona, but slowly, their private philanthropic actions began to be revealed. Many of them sounded like the hasidic stories of old – quiet giving, lofty and holy examples of helping the poor in their times of need.
Barry and Honey Sherman truly personified the adage: “Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle.”

READ: 7,000 GATHER TO SAY GOODBYE TO SAY A HEARTFELT GOODBYE TO BARRY AND HONEY SHERMAN

I thought about Ve’ahavta’s first gala, which was held two years after its inception. We were a young, grassroots, mostly unknown organization, with little support from the wealthy members of our community. The evening began in a tent at Southbrooke Farms. All of the sudden, Barry and Honey Sherman walked in. I was blown away. The royalty of philanthropy had honoured us with their presence. Years later, I mentioned this to Honey Sherman. I expressed my gratitude for their support. Honey was cool and humble. She simply said, “It was a pleasure.” It’s one of those things one never forgets.

Over the years, the Shermans – through Barry Sherman’s company, Apotex – donated vast amounts of pharmaceuticals to Ve’ahavta for our international medical missions to Guyana, Zimbabwe and elsewhere. They always gave us what we needed, at no cost, and did so graciously. As the century turned and HIV was creating millions of orphans in Sub-Saharan Africa, we launched a mother-to-child study in Zimbabwe, spearheaded by our then-director of science and medicine, Dr. Michael Silverman.

Barry Sherman generously agreed to give us the 50,000 AZT tablets we required. But the shipment was halted in South Africa by the pharmaceutical company GlaxoSmithKline (GSK), because it said that Apotex didn’t have the right to make and distribute the drug. Barry Sherman disagreed. Ultimately, GSK replaced the batch, fearing the bad press that would result from keeping drugs from needy Africans. Barry Sherman understood the AZT was for charity and he remained quiet. He never said a word about the event, even though it could have helped Apotex in its fight against Glaxo. In the end, the regimen saved thousands of children’s lives – the ultimate mitzvah – largely thanks to the Shermans and Apotex.

Two souls passed our way. They planted a glorious orchard for all of us to partake of. Their names were Barry and Honey Sherman. They will forever be loved and their orchard will grow for eternity.