By Larry Gordon
It is a weekly ritual, and I sit there watching quietly as it happens. Perhaps it is a matter that should be confidential, but I sit next to Dr. Jonathan Herman in shul on Shabbos here in the Five Towns. The so-called ritual that takes place just about every week is the parade of young men who make it their business to walk over to him, shake his hand, and wish him “Good Shabbos.”
Sometimes they will exchange a few other words, but that’s rare; mostly they greet him with the traditional “Good Shabbos,” he says it back to them as the practice goes, and then everyone gets on with the davening.
This ceremonial activity is an expression of appreciation to the doctor, an OBGYN, for delivering their babies with the utmost care, professionalism, and personal dedication, something that is rare to behold these days in medical practices. Sitting next to him in shul affords me the opportunity to witness these exchanges on a regular basis, and it is something that the same young men do every week. It’s not a one-time, perfunctory gesture; it is an ongoing and consistent expression of gratitude that just never ends—and that’s a beautiful thing.
While not much is said other than the “Good Shabbos” greeting, there is a lot more going on that cannot necessarily be expressed in mere words. It is the firm handshake and the look in their eyes that connects them and expresses a link that can be considered to be on another realm, so to speak. After all, how can you say thank you for bringing our most precious possessions into the world?
So here are a couple of things about Dr. Herman that I would like to share with you, with some personal commentary from my up-close and unique perspective. Full disclosure mandates that I report that, without mentioning anyone specific, the doctor has so far delivered nine of our grandchildren, so I have a vested interest in his continued success as well.
After 30 years of being associated with Long Island Jewish Hospital (LIJ), Dr. Herman this week began a new relationship with Winthrop Hospital in Mineola, now known as NYU Winthrop Hospital. After taking into consideration the conditions that Winthrop was offering, Dr. Herman believes that the time was right for the move.
“Two major items that had to be met was how the hospital’s offer would improve services to my patients,” Dr. Herman says. “And then I had to be assured that the hospital would hire all of my current staff, which they agreed to do.” Once those assurances were received it was easy to make a deal and sign on, Dr. Herman says.
On January 5, at the Sands in Atlantic Beach, Dr. Herman will be recognized for his years of service to the community by Achiezer at their annual gala dinner event. “Dr. Herman is larger than life,” says Baruch Ber Bender, the founder and director of Achiezer. “We have called on him countless times over the years and in some delicate matters,” Rabbi Bender adds, “and he has always been there for us and the community that he is so much a part of. We felt that it was indeed time to recognize his selflessness and dedication.”
Dr. Herman is not only a neighbor and friend to many in the community; he is a man whose chosen profession cares for the individual at a most pivotal time. What can you say for the person who has guided your family through pregnancy and has presided over the birth of your children, a most exhilarating as well as challenging time in a young couple’s life? I once heard a doctor say that the most dangerous trip a person ever takes is the trip through the birth canal. This is precisely where great skill and ability comes into the picture and that is why Jonathan Herman is as popular and in-demand as he is.
Baruch Ber Bender says that over the years, the organization has established important contacts in the medical field with the objective to be able to effectively navigate their way through the complex industry that medicine has become. He says that in his experience there are few doctors who make themselves available in the fashion that Dr. Herman does.
“Whenever we call on him, he is there, and the circumstances do not matter to him,” Rabbi Bender says. “Those who need help in his area of expertise can be from out of town, sometimes even from Israel; whatever it is, Jonathan Herman is always there to lend a helping hand,” Bender concludes.
On Monday morning, Dr. Herman delivered his first baby at Winthrop after three decades at LIJ. It is probably a change laden with some sentiment and emotion. But as he said the other day, so long as the move is the best thing for his extensive patient base, then that is just what he has to do.
It is also important to note that while his practice delivers 600 babies every year, for Dr. Herman, the crusade to administer the best healthcare for women is not limited to the confines of his office or the hospital where he delivers these many hundreds of babies. Dr. Herman is a clear thinker with an unusual vision of the future and the ability to inquire, ask questions, and challenge norms that can both change and save lives.
One of those key areas is on the matter of the BRCA genes (BRCA1 and BRCA2), which indicates a genetic predisposition to female and male breast cancer, ovarian cancer, prostate cancer, pancreatic cancer and even certain melanomas. Dr. Herman told the Times of Israel a few years ago that he does not understand why testing for BRCA is not a standard procedure. He has witnessed too many people finding out that they carry the gene and a disposition to those cancers when it is already too late.
Dr. Herman has lectured extensively on the subject around the country, particularly to groups of Jewish women in the New York area. Ashkenazic women have an unusually high ratio in the population carrying the BRCA gene. A documentary film on the subject, featuring Dr. Herman and his research on BRCA, will be shown in the coming months on the Public Broadcasting Service.
Perhaps it can be said that because of a doctor like Jonathan Herman, there is a confidence to the otherwise potentially complicated matters associated with giving birth. Frankly, there is not that much that he can do to help us raise those children, as that’s another department entirely. But first thing’s first: On the matter of birth and its related issues, Dr. Jonathan Herman has you covered.