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Sara Esther Crispe

Sara Esther Crispe

Editor of TheJewishWoman.org

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Sara Esther with her family
Sara Esther with her family

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.

Sarah Zadok is a Jewish educator and lecturer, a childbirth professional and a freelance writer. She lives in the Golan Heights with her husband and five children.
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Tana Goodwin Las Vegas, Nevada January 24, 2011

Thank you How wonderful to know more about this woman who only recently entered my life Reply

Catherine Roozman Weigensberg Montreal , Canada February 12, 2008

A Beautiful Piece Thank you, Sarah, for providing us with a personal and touching perspective of your dear friend. I just loved this piece, as it assists 'The Jewish Woman' global community to appreciate the many beautiful sides of Sara Esther. If only everyone could have a friend as wise, intuitive, funny and kind as this exceptional woman. Clearly you own some amazing qualities yourself, and we are privileged to obtain a glimpse of the rich and entertaining experiences the both of you have shared. This was truly a delicious treat. Reply

julie s. February 11, 2008

thank you. Yes, this was so nice of you to share. Not only was it excellently written, it gave the rest of us some background on this amazing woman found amongst us. You both carry most beautiful reflections of life. Blessings continue to overtake you both, and in reading such good things, may each one of us follow this example and infuse the world with kindness! Reply

Dr. Amy Austin La Quinta, Ca/USA February 11, 2008

Sara and Sarah...Dor le Dor... Your beautiful commentary reaffirms that there are no coincidences in life. It appears that your life could have gone left or right. Your parent's decision to rediscover their Jewish heritage and identification was the first light that was kindled. The fact that you were open and willing to receive Sara Esther's message wrapped in authenticity, is a tribute to you. From one Jewish home came another, hence the crucial importance of venturing out into all parts of the world and spreading words of Torah. Hats off to Sara Esther and to you Sarah for the continuation and preservation of our wonderful, rich customs and peoplehood. May we all go from simcha to simcha, strength to strength, and have only good news to report.
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shari r bailey essex junction, vt February 11, 2008

thanks as a mutual friend of sara esther i totally understand and i consider to be one of the blessed people who have had the opportunity to meet her. she is an amazingly and genuinely wonderful woman. i do so look forward to coming years g-d willing of getting to know her even better. Reply

Tracy Kay Morera Middlebury, VT/USA February 11, 2008

Sarah Esther Crispe Wht an amazing and incredible mentor you have! Nice writing! Reply

Patricia via chabadpasadena.com February 10, 2008

The jewish woman May we all be blessed with the natural ability to speak so compassionately and honorable about each other as Sara Crispe's friend Sara has spoken about her.
I also think Sara would still be cute in Doc Martins today! Reply

E.D. Tauby Richmond , BC/Canada via chabaduvm.org February 10, 2008

S.E. Crispe Thank you Sarah for sharing your personal stories and memories of times spent with Sarah Esther. Your words have brought our hardworking editor's past into the present and given new meaning to the word "supermom". Truly an inspiring woman! I always appreciated Sarah Esther's honesty, creativity and courage. Although we've never met, I feel as if I know her even better now. Thanks for the gift. Sincerely, Esther Reply

Jampa Williams West Hartford, CT February 10, 2008

The Joy of Sara's Community What a delight to read Sarah Zadok's rich and wonderful profile of Sara Esther Crispe and the inspriring, enlightening, nurturing and empowering community she has created on chabad.org. To Sara, and to Sarah, and to all of you who make this site available to women around the world - thank you so much for your compassion and your empathy and your labor. Be well and be blessed. Reply