I first met Sara Esther when I was about sixteen. My parents, who had recently discovered their Jewish roots, were flying to New York for a few days and informed me that I'd be staying at home with a "wonderful, Torah observant, college student." Not exactly my idea of a good time. I was a bit of a wild-child and way more concerned about being "cool" than I was about being Jewish. But, bless them, they wanted someone responsible to keep an eye on me.
I'd envisioned a nerdy, frumpy, rigid woman wearing over-sized clothes and out-dated shoes reading psalms all day. I imagined her enthusiasm while she tried to save my soul from eternal damnation, and encouraged me to move towards the light. I had several escape plans in place, just in case.
What a jolt I had when this beautiful and hip young woman showed up at my door. She had long golden hair that hung nearly to her waist. She was wearing a funky, multicolored tunic and a wooly green skirt with a pair of big, black Doc Martin boots. "Alright…" I thought.
She was totally comfortable with who she was The weekend turned out to be a blast. Sara Esther was so cool, so down-to-earth and so easy to be with. And she was into Judaism. But she didn't lead with that. She was totally comfortable with who she was and never tried to push her agenda on me. And so, I let her in a bit and we became close.
One day, not long after we met, a rabbi in our community was celebrating his son's third birthday. It was a haircutting party called an upsherin. Sara Esther suggested we go and make a day out of it. The party was being held at the Chabad House in our State college-area. There we were, two good-looking young ladies, cruising through the college area in my pick-up truck. A car full of handsome, young frat boys pulled up beside us at a red light, all smiles and whistles and yelled out, "Where are you lovely ladies headed to?"
I remember feeling flushed and excited, and just as I was getting ready with a luring comeback, Sara Esther rolled down her window. I sunk in my seat, worried she was going to tell them to mind their own business and leave us alone. But rather, she stuck her head out the window, smiled, and just said, "We're going to an upsherin, want to come?" Somehow she made our plans look cool, so cool in fact, that they just sat their, open-mouthed, not sure how to respond to the invitation. In utter shock (and what only later became awe), I hit the gas and sped away. That was my first of many introductions to the unabashed honesty and self-assuredness of my dear friend, Sara Esther.
It's been about fifteen years since the pick-up truck story and she is still the same enthusiastic, honest, committed, witty, powerful and beautiful woman as she was back then. What amazed me about her then continues to amaze me now; Sara Esther is a woman who knows who she is and doesn't apologize for living a life of purpose.
Sara Esther has always had a knack for seeing the potential in othersWe met up several years later in Jerusalem. We were both married by then. Nava, her first child, was about two years-old, and she was expecting her second baby. And she was opening a brand new women's seminary program. "You are what?" I asked as she offered me a position on staff. "Hey, there is a need for it and with G‑d's help, I can do it. It's going to be great."
And it was. The seminary turned out to be a huge success. They had enrollment from all over the world, a staff of ten and a student body of thirty. The girls in the program loved it, and Sara Esther ran the whole show. From buying the toilet paper for the dorm rooms, to hiring staff, to counseling the girls until the wee hours of the morning, to teaching Chassidut and creative writing classes, she literally did it all. And she did it well.
Sara Esther has always had a knack for seeing the potential in others, and she always tried to fan that flame for me. Aside from trusting me to be an educator on her staff, she somehow got the idea that I should be present at the birth of her next child. I had given birth once myself and attended a good friend at her birth but I was by no means a professional (that came later, after Sara Esther broke me in). But she believed in me and invited me into the most intimate and sacred space that women can share.
I never knew that birth could be so graceful. She was so present, so strong, and she labored with the same self-assuredness, the same faith and purpose I had become accustomed to in the other areas her life. I remember her sitting on the bed, with her eyes closed and so focused and intense as each contraction rolled over her like a wave. She didn't take pain medication and she still made it look easy. It was an honor to share a small part in the births of her third and fourth children.
After Ayden, her fourth child was born, Sara Esther realized that her husband's career needed a bit more attention. They had since decided to close their seminary and focus more on their writing and speaking and they had both been gaining popularity on the international lecture circuit. Sara Esther also knew her husband wanted to pursue a doctorate, so in order to do so, they made a major life change and came back to the States. They moved to the east coast and both began to hit it big with the speaking invitations. Both Sara Esther and her husband Asher do amazing things with words.
Just as I was starting to really miss her here in Israel, she got in touch via email.
"I like to dream big," was her response"I'm starting a new project with Chabad.org. I'm helping create a Jewish women's website, by women, for women, and I want you to start writing." By this time, I had known Sara Esther long enough to know that not only was she going to do it, but she was going to do it brilliantly. "I want to create a community of women, and provide a venue to share strength and knowledge." "You're unbelievable," was my reply. "I like to dream big," was her response.
As much as Sara Esther is a dreamer, she is also a "doer." Since the site launched two years ago this weekend, it now has over 900 articles from over 100 new authors. TheJewishWoman.org has nearly 20,000 weekly subscribers, and as you all know, it has become a community. We follow each other's stories, mourn for each other's losses, and rejoice in each other's successes.
I sometimes imagine TheJewishWoman.org as another of Sara Esther's flesh-and-blood children: she conceived it, gestated it, and with the same grace and power that I saw her use to birth her children, gave birth to this site. The site is home to thousands of women who come here to find support, love and faith in high doses daily.
And as a contributor and reader of the site, I easily forget the work it takes to make it happen. Somehow, almost magically, eight new articles appear each week, beautifully laid out and always powerful and moving. But then I am reminded as to how that happens when I find Sara Esther in my inbox at three AM, because she felt that my piece needed more balance, or because she just had to share a comment that was posted on my article that she knew would lift me up even though she was on a layover in Florida on the way to a speaking engagement in Caracas. It looks so easy and professional because Sara Esther nurtures every bit of that site and raises it with the same passion and dedication that she does to raise her four beautiful children. Sara Esther embodies the idea of a committed Jewish woman.
She is fiercely dedicated to promoting strength and truth amongst Jewish women. And on top of that she is so totally human and approachable. She doesn't hide when she has erred, like the time when she was late for lighting Shabbat candles (A Missed Opportunity), or when she was a super-mom for a day for someone else's child (Lessons From a Temporary Supermom). We never would have known; she didn't have to tell us. But she's real, and she writes about what is real to her and cares enough about us to share the lessons that she's learned so that we can learn.
Her honesty bowled me over that day in the pick-up truck, and it continues to amaze me now. I have been a big fan from day one. Sara Esther has made a huge impact in my life, and I say that knowing that I'm just one of literally thousands.