Honey and Barry Sherman: The Embodiment of Jewish Leadership

Honey and Barry were taken from us, but their spirit and legacy shall remain with the Toronto Jewish community forever. In thinking about them this morning, I took a moment to review selections from Pirke Avot, a compilation of the ethical teachings and maxims passed down to our sages and Rabbis from the time of Moses onward.

Honey and Barry fulfilled many, if not most, of the tenets of Jewish ethos reflected in these sacred passages: It is written, “do not separate yourself from your community” – and Honey and Barry were involved in every aspect of our community. Not only were they champions of charity, but they made an effort to attend and participate at every major community event. “No Thanks” was never in the Sherman vocabulary – as they understood that every Jew counts (no matter who) and by being together as a community through thick and thin, we are stronger as a community.

In the same regard, Honey and Barry took strong leadership positions in the community, honouring the tenet, “if I am for myself alone, of what good am I?”. Although they could have closed themselves off from the community, Honey and Barry understood their central role in lifting up everyone around them – in contributing to the greater good and in participating on many boards, including the Canadian Friends of Simon Wiesenthal Center.

As our teaching’s command, they always “received everyone with a cheerful countenance” as has been widely expressed by all who personally knew them. They “honoured their fellowman” by celebrating their accomplishments with them (as they recently did by honouring me at the Haifa dinner). To the question, “Who is rich?” answer our sages, “He who rejoices in whatever is his portion” and rejoice they did through their exceptional charitable giving and by helping people around the world with medicine – that is what truly enriched their life.

In a letter to the family, Simon Wiesenthal Center Dean and Founder, Rabbi Marvin Hier said, “What set your parents apart was that they were doers, not talkers; givers, not observers. They never forgot our past, particularly the Holocaust, but they were equally determined to do all they could to better our future…and they were devoted friends and leaders of the Simon Wiesenthal Center.” Honey and Barry were taken from our community far too soon. And as the famous Pirke Avot passage says, “Though it is not incumbent upon you to complete the work, you are not free from doing all you possibly can” – Barry and Honey truly did all they possibly could in the short time they were given. It is now incumbent on us, the community and their family to complete their work.

If there was one lesson in Jewish leadership we could glean from Honey and Barry – it’s that they were always there for us as a community and as a people. I hope we can all take this lesson to heart and make an effort to overcome complacency and simply “be there”.

“Be strong as the leopard, swift as an eagle, Brave as the lion to do the will of your Father in heaven” – Pirke Avot.

About the Author
Avi Benlolo is the President and CEO of Friends of Simon Wiesenthal Center for Holocaust Studies (FSWC), a Jewish non-profit human rights organization. Avi is a prominent Canadian human rights activist dedicated to promoting tolerance, freedom, democracy and human rights.
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