For his entire life, Jonathan Hersch has been running, as a track star and marathon racer. But now his goal is beyond the finish line.
The Edison resident is the father of two children with diabetes, and he is donating part of the proceeds of a book he wrote on these two facets of his life — Relax and Go: On Running and Surviving Parental Trauma — to help advance research on the disease being conducted in Israel.
The funds will go to Ben and Shira’s Endowment Fund for Diabetes Research at the Weizmann Institute of Science. It was established almost six years ago by the Hersch family in honor of his son, now 18, and daughter, 13, after they visited the institute in Rehovot while in Israel for Ben’s bar mitzva and saw firsthand its “cutting-edge” research.
Hersch, 46, has already raised $100,000 for the fund through his Team Dream’s participation in races. The team raised another $250,000 for the American Diabetes Association.
Running with the team are Hersch’s children as well as and parents and classmates at the former Solomon Schechter Day School in Cranford, Solomon Schechter Day School of Raritan Valley in East Brunswick, and Golda Och Academy in West Orange. Shira attends the Lewis School, a specialized school in Princeton, to which Hersch is also donating some of the book’s profits.
“I initially started writing a collection of essays when Ben was four and first diagnosed with diabetes,” said Hersch, who is merchandise planning director for the Children’s Place. “I couldn’t find any literature about the emotional aspect of having a child with diabetes…,” particularly from a father’s perspective.
His project grew a few years later when Shira was also diagnosed with diabetes, as well as with dyslexia and a processing disorder.
The racing metaphor is used throughout his book, but the chapter on Shira is written in the first person. “I found being the parent of a diabetic child was different from being the parent of a child with learning differences…,” said Hersch. “I tried to get into the head of someone with learning differences who might have a terrible time articulating her own thoughts.”
The concept of a “single race pervades the book,” Hersch said. “As a parent you expect things to take a certain path and, just as in life, things don’t happen that way.“
“Especially when they were first diagnosed, as parents we worried every night whether they would go into a diabetic coma,” said Hersch. “You never know when they’ll get that low that will put them into a seizure. Fortunately, my children have never gotten to the point where they need to be revived, but what about the long-term effects of what it’s doing to their bodies and how will it affect their length of life, their vision, all that good stuff?”
Hersch and his wife, Julie, have another daughter, Rebecca, 16; the family belongs to Congregation Neve Shalom in Metuchen.
The book also delves into Hersch’s childhood growing up in Trenton and Lawrence as the son of Rabbi Howard Hersch, who served as religious leader at Congregation Brothers of Israel from 1961 to 2009. The 130-year-old synagogue moved from Trenton to Newtown, Pa., six years ago.
“There weren’t a lot of Jewish children in Lawrence Township, and wearing that yoke of being a rabbi’s child colored my experience,” said Hersch, who was a star long-distance runner at Lawrence High School. He later was named Duke University’s most valuable cross-country runner.
“Part of what shaped me as an individual and one of my motivations to becoming a successful athlete were my experiences and feelings about being a rabbi’s son as a youth,” said Hersch. “I was dealing with a lot of perceptions of what I thought people were thinking about me as a rabbi’s son. My Judaism was still very important to me but I didn’t talk about it.”
He devoted a chapter, “Amendments,” to his father, to whom, he said, he has grown close as an adult.
“I don’t blame my father or his profession, but I had a lot of issues as a teen,” said Hersch. “My parents separated when I was a teen and later divorced and I lived through their dysfunctional marriage. I make the premise in the book that as an adult you have to fix those relationships. My father read it even before I published the book and enjoyed it very much.”
Camp Ramah in the Poconos, which he attended for six summers, also is cited as having a profound effect on his Jewish identity; it was also where Hersch met his future wife.
The book also highlights how Jewish practices such as Shabbat allow Hersch “to put things away and refresh” as he races through life.