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Musing for Meaning

Why I Changed My Name

December 30, 2012

There is one time in our lives when we are definitively granted prophecy. And that is when we name our child. Regardless of our reasoning or motivation in choosing the name we give, the name we pick is the name that the child must have.

I am often asked where my name comes from. To this day, when I introduce myself, I get a bit tongue-tied. When I say, “Sara Esther,” people assume that “Esther” is my last name. Throw in “Crispe,” and they are utterly confused. When I just say “Sara” (what I was called for the first twenty years of my life), anyone around who knows me as "Sara Esther" looks at me a bit strangely, wondering if I somehow forgot my name.

To this day, when I introduce myself, I get a bit tongue-tied

And then there are those who choose to use only my middle name. Problem is that I don’t respond to “Esther” on its own, so more than once I have been called to the podium for a speaking engagement and sat there, looking around, wondering when this Esther was planning on responding.

For many who become Torah-observant when they are older, they choose to take on a Hebrew name, or use the Hebrew version of their English name. This wasn’t my case. When I was born, I was given the name Sara Esther after my grandmother. Although she was referred to as Sally, her full name was Sara Esther.

I never used my full name, though. Growing up, the name Esther was so archaic-sounding that I was embarrassed to even tell people I had a middle name. I recall with utter humiliation when school IDs were handed out with our entire legal names. My classmates saw my full name, and “SaaarEstherrrr” was the new nickname for the year.

Little did I know that not long after, I would realize how much I needed my name. How much I needed to live up to my name.

He didn’t know what was blocking me, but he felt I wasn’t open or ready to continue learning and growing

I chose to spend my junior year of college studying at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. It was during this time that I went from one who had vowed to never practice any “ism,” including Judaism, to one who was finding herself sitting in yeshivah classes and learning Torah whenever possible. I became quite close with Rabbi Moshe Schlass, a very deep and spiritual teacher who agreed to study with me weekly. And then one day, he stopped.

He said that he didn’t know what was blocking me, but he felt I wasn’t open or ready to continue learning and growing. I couldn’t understand it. I so badly wanted to dedicate myself to exploring who I was, but at every turn it seemed that I couldn’t move forward. Even when I would put on a skirt to try to dress more modestly, my friends would tug at it and ask when I was taking it off, assuming I had on a pair of jeans underneath. As hard as I tried, no one would take my search seriously.

My rabbi insisted that something was preventing me from continuing. We explored things from an emotional side, a psychological angle, and then he asked if by chance I had a middle name. We were learning about the Torah portion of Shemot, and he was explaining the importance of our names and how they embody both who we are and who we are capable of becoming.

I told him my middle name was Esther, and his face paled. “That’s it,” he screamed. “You are missing Esther!”

“That’s it,” he screamed. “You are missing Esther!”

He continued to explain that I was most definitely Sara, but half of me was missing, and that half was holding me back. My name Sara is from our matriarch, Sarah, who was known for her strength and her boldness. When she saw negativity, she immediately wanted to get rid of it, and that is why she told Abraham to force Ishmael to leave. And she was right. Kol asher tomar eilecha Sarah, shema b’kolah (“Everything that Sarah tells you, you are to listen to her voice”) is the directive that G‑d gives Abraham. And he did. But in the end she did not rid the world of Ishmael’s negativity and evil; she only pushed it away temporarily.

Queen Esther, in our Purim story, also dealt with evil, but in a completely different way. She did not choose to call it out, but rather to work behind the scenes and ultimately allow it to reveal itself. Esther, similarly, was strong, but in a much more quiet and subdued way. Her patience and foresight is what saves the say. And in the end, she not only wiped away the evil that sought to destroy her and her people then, but this lineage was never to return.

The Kabbalistic commentaries even explain that Queen Esther was the reincarnation of our matriarch Sarah. One allusion to this is how Sarah lived for 127 years, and Esther ruled over 127 nations.

When my teacher said this, it hit home. There really was no revealed Esther in me. It was there, in potential, but hidden deep down. (Anyone who knows me knows that “patient” and “quiet” are not usually my forte.) But from that night onward, I chose to use both of my names. I was no longer just Sara, but Sara Esther. And the transition was, and still is, hard. Back then I certainly wasn’t really ready for it, but felt that only through hearing my full name would I be motivated to try to use them both.

A few years later I was introduced to Asher, my future husband. At this point I had been living a completely Torah-observant lifestyle for a few years, and people no longer doubted if my skirt was a costume or not.

I tried to see what my name would look like if I married him

As I debated if this guy was possibly my soulmate, for fun one day I tried to see what my name would look like if I married him. I sat there doodling the name “Crispe,” seeing if I liked the look and sound of it. But then I noticed something astounding. As I wrote my name in full, something started to reveal itself.

My name in Hebrew is seven letters: shin, reish, hei spell “Sarah,” and aleph, samech, tav, reish spell “Esther.” Ready for this . . . the first, middle and last letters of my name are: shin, aleph, reish, which when turned around spell “Asher.” And the remaining letters when the order is changed spell hester, which means “hidden.” Literally hidden within the name Sara Esther is Asher! My beginning, middle and end.

It’s been almost 16 years since Asher and I married, and 20 years since I learned about the Torah portion Shemot, meaning “Names,” and the importance of my name. In that time we have named four beautiful children ourselves, whom we watch in wonder as they reveal deeper and deeper levels of their names as they grow. And while this day I continue to strive and struggle in being both Sara and Esther, I look forward to seeing where my name will lead me next.

Sara Esther Crispe, a writer, inspirational speaker and mother of four, is the co-director of Interinclusion, a nonprofit multi-layered educational initiative celebrating the convergence between contemporary arts and sciences and timeless Jewish wisdom. Prior to that she was the editor of TheJewishWoman.org, and wrote the popular weekly blog Musing for Meaning. To book Sara Esther for a speaking engagement, please click here.

The Little Pill

December 23, 2012

I saw her smirk out of the corner of my eye. I tried to ignore it, but then she did it again. Finally, I asked her what she found so amusing.

“I just can’t believe you really think these things make a difference!”

She had been watching me all day. After years of not seeing this friend of mine from childhood, we finally were able to reconnect when she was in town for a business meeting. She knew that I have been living a Torah-observant life since college, but she just hadn’t seen it yet in action.

She had been watching me all dayMeanwhile, I thought I integrated what I did pretty seamlessly, but because she was watching, she noticed. She noticed me say a few words under my breath before putting anything in my mouth to eat. She watched me wash my hands in a particular way after exiting the restroom. She even picked up on the fact that when I put on my shoes I first put on the right, then the left, then tied the left, then the right. And she was right. I did do all those things. And I did them very much on purpose.

I tried explaining the meaning, the significance. I spoke about the need for gratitude before and after we eat, how even something seemingly as simple as being able to relieve oneself is something to be very grateful about, and how there is the idea of starting and ending everything with love, which is represented by our right side—thus the reason for beginning with my right shoe and ending with tying it.

But she didn’t care. It wasn’t that she didn’t agree that we should be thankful or that we should appreciate what we have; that part she was fine with. It was thinking that the particular way I did it actually made a difference. What bothered her was my insistence on adhering to the mitzvot, the commandments, and not just the concepts.

The root of the word “mitzvah” is tzav, which according to Chassidut relates to tzavta v’chibur, meaning “cleaving and attachment.” Bottom line, if you want to connect to someone, you do the things that he or she wants and has asked for. If I want to connect to my Creator, I want to do things His way, not mine.

But something else was bothering my friend. She couldn’t accept the fact that something so small and simple as saying a few words, or any of the multitude of actions that are done throughout my day, actually make a difference.

And then she took out a pill.

It was small. Ridiculously so.

I asked her what it was for, and she told me she was suffering from horrible migraines and that her doctor had prescribed her this new medication. It was a “miracle drug,” she bragged. All she had to do was take this one small pill, just once a day, and her debilitating migraines disappeared.

What we can’t see can affect usClearly, I trust that it works for her. I would never imply that it was only a placebo effect. And while I can’t for the life of me comprehend how they get such powerful medication into these small pills, I know they do it. This is why we lock away medications from our children. Why would they ever think that those bright red little pills that look so yummy could hurt them—could kill them! They seem harmless. They seem insignificant. And yet, what we can’t see can affect us.

I didn’t want to turn the rest of our lunch date into a theological debate. I changed the subject, and we focused on what our kids are up to and their crazy antics. We thoroughly enjoyed our time together, and for all of our differences, recognized that we still have so much in common. But I did slip in one more comment before we parted ways. As I finished saying the blessing after my meal, and watched her eyes roll yet again, I asked if I could see those migraine pills one more time. I held one up, smiled, and remarked, “It is pretty amazing how something so small can make such a life-changing difference, isn’t it?”

Sara Esther Crispe, a writer, inspirational speaker and mother of four, is the co-director of Interinclusion, a nonprofit multi-layered educational initiative celebrating the convergence between contemporary arts and sciences and timeless Jewish wisdom. Prior to that she was the editor of TheJewishWoman.org, and wrote the popular weekly blog Musing for Meaning. To book Sara Esther for a speaking engagement, please click here.

Making Time

December 16, 2012

I’ll never forget the first time I was invited to a Shabbat meal in the Old City of Jerusalem. I was told to be there no later than 6 PM. Well, as I am slightly time-challenged, I took “6 PM prompt” a bit figuratively, and showed up at 6:15, which was the most on-time I had ever been at that point. I noticed the Shabbat candles beautifully dancing, apologized for being late, and asked if I too could light the candles. “Better late than never,” I said with a smile, reaching for the matches. To which I was told, “I’m so sorry, but you can’t. It’s too late.”

I was so used to second chances, extended deadlines, one more opportunity . . . but this time there was no discussion

It’s too late? What? But it was only 6:15. Really? That was it. Over. Done. I was so used to second chances, extended deadlines, one more opportunity . . . but this time there was no discussion. I wasn’t going to get to light.

Now, it wasn’t as if I had lit candles for however many years prior to that. But being told I couldn’t really bothered me. So much so that it prompted my decision to check out more about Judaism, and why being so on time in this particular situation actually mattered.

It’s been over 20 years since that one Friday night, and I have been lighting my Shabbat candles, on time, for at least 20 of them! (Click here to read about one that I missed: “A Missed Opportunity.”) But I can’t say I have fully integrated the importance of being on time, or more importantly, present in the right time, in all aspects of my life. And it is something I struggle with.

Lighting Shabbat candles at a very specific time teaches us how important it is to do what you need to do, when you need to do it. And sometimes, being ready just a tad too late, or even too early, is not really helpful at all. You know, like your friend who shows up after you have done all the work, and then asks if there is anything you need? But I see it in my own home. I see it with my children. They want my attention. Now. But I may not be available. Now. So I push them off. Or I tell them to come back later. But by the time I am available, I may have missed that opening, that opportunity. Or my husband might want to share something he has just learned or read about, but I am in the middle of something. He might still tell me at a later point, but the excitement is gone.

By the time I am available, I may have missed that opening

We are all busy. We have things we are doing, and things that need to get done. And, unlike Shabbat, we do not have set times for some of the most important things in our lives. Our children do not work according to schedule, nor do the needs of our friends and loved ones. People need us when they need us, and it is up to us if we make the time. Because we somehow manage to find the time for the bad. When, G‑d forbid, there is a funeral, we make it. But the wedding? The happy occasion? For that, how often are we late, if we make it at all?

When I think about all the moments I have missed because they weren’t happening at a good time for me, I cringe. Those moments are gone, never to be experienced again. But there will be new ones. And those new ones I can be present for, if I readjust my sense of time. If I recognize that I can make time even if it doesn’t appear to be there. When something is important, time will expand.

Just last night, my youngest daughter asked if she could sleep in my bed. I told her she could, and she went upstairs. But I kept hearing her stir. She wanted me to cuddle with her. And I was busy. But fortunately, I realized that since I am always busy, there was no pressing reason I couldn’t take a small break. So I went up to her. And as we cuddled, she told me about her friends and her dreams and the projects she wants to make. She asked questions and philosophized, and just enjoyed having her mommy to herself with no interruptions. As did I.

I am no longer going to try to find the time, but I will focus on making it

I had meant to head back downstairs to my work as soon as she fell asleep, but when I woke up this morning, I realized it didn’t happen. I fell asleep with her in my arms, and woke up with her there as well. Such a rare treat for both of us, but one that I know we will remember.

And the best part? The time I invested was not only invaluable to our relationship, but gave me sleep I so desperately needed—so that today, while she was at a play date, I was able to focus and produce more than I ever would have last night.

So this is my new goal. I am no longer going to try to find the time, but I will focus on making it. No doubt it will be hard, but it will be worth it. After all, if I can somehow figure out how to be ready for Shabbat in the winter at 4:30, even though I use every minute during the summer and barely make it when Shabbat is at 7:30, clearly time expands as it needs to.

And, what perfect timing . . . one of my kids just called my name. So, instead of saying “one second,” I will head up. Because at the end of the day (literally and figuratively), I never want those I love to feel I do not have the time for them.

Sara Esther Crispe, a writer, inspirational speaker and mother of four, is the co-director of Interinclusion, a nonprofit multi-layered educational initiative celebrating the convergence between contemporary arts and sciences and timeless Jewish wisdom. Prior to that she was the editor of TheJewishWoman.org, and wrote the popular weekly blog Musing for Meaning. To book Sara Esther for a speaking engagement, please click here.

Knowing Who We Are

December 9, 2012

It was said innocently enough. “Don’t Jew me now!” There was a moment of silence. Everyone looked at me for a response. But I didn’t know how to respond. I didn’t know what to say. I didn’t know how to stand up for being a Jew, because I just wasn’t sure what it really meant.

I had always been one who liked to have different experiences. I liked emotional connections. So I thought that I would spend my third year in college trying to figure out more about myself, my people and my Judaism.

There was a moment of silence. Everyone looked at me for a response

But even though I was in Israel, I spent one night of Chanukah, which landed on December 24, at the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem for the experience. I spent Passover in Egypt for the experience. I kept having experiences, but still hadn’t been able to find my place. My connection. My soul.

I knew what I wasn’t. I just didn’t know what I was. And then, finally, I chose to stop trying to experience and to sit down and learn. Learning in a way where the learning could be something I felt related to my life, to my questions, to my search.

Fortunately, after finding the right teacher for me, whose teachings resonated on the deepest level, I finally felt that I was connecting. Not only to my Judaism, but to myself.

Finding ourselves, knowing who we are, what we believe, what we stand for, is the key to our success. Now, as we celebrate Chanukah, every night we light another flame and are reminded that the Greeks did not try to kill our bodies, but our souls. They didn’t care that we were Jews and they didn’t care that we studied Torah; they cared when we connected the two. They did everything they could to prevent our ability to live proudly as Jews. To identify ourselves as Jews and find meaning in our Jewishness. That was their problem then. And that must be our solution now.

I knew what I wasn’t. I just didn’t know what I was

The world is watching us. Many are attacking. And we need to know how to respond. Each and every one of us. When our people are put down, when our country is put down, when our Judaism is put down . . . what do we say? How do we react?

There is no one right answer. There are many different approaches. But they all require the same thing. Knowing who we are. And to know who we are, we must learn, we must experience, we must do, and we must connect them all. Our Judaism needs to be alive, relevant and meaningful.

As is often taught, the root of the word Chanukah is related to chinuch, education. We must learn, we must teach, we must educate ourselves and we must educate the rest of the world. But we need to start at home. When we know who we are, we can teach our children who they are. And when as a collective people we are secure in what it means to be a Jew, then we truly are indestructible. And just as our enemies were unable to defeat us in the past, so too they will fail in their present attempts as well. But only when we know who we are.

Sara Esther Crispe, a writer, inspirational speaker and mother of four, is the co-director of Interinclusion, a nonprofit multi-layered educational initiative celebrating the convergence between contemporary arts and sciences and timeless Jewish wisdom. Prior to that she was the editor of TheJewishWoman.org, and wrote the popular weekly blog Musing for Meaning. To book Sara Esther for a speaking engagement, please click here.

Not Giving Our Kids Chanukah Gifts

December 2, 2012

Look, I like a good sale as much as the next girl, but my perspective has most definitely shifted.

It was just a few weeks back that we made our annual trip to Vermont for Thanksgiving. And since Shabbat now comes in so early, we decided to begin our seven-hour drive back home on Thursday evening.

At first, I couldn’t understand what I was seeing. There were lines and lines of people outside. And it was cold! I wasn’t sure what they were doing, or why they were there. After seeing this a few more times, I finally realized that they were literally camping outside, waiting in line.

We do not give gifts. I know: our poor kids. But trust me, they have survived just fineThese people must have either left the minute their Thanksgiving feast ended, or perhaps chose to ditch it altogether to make it to the front of the line. How ironic. On the very day dedicated to being grateful for what we already have, so many celebrated it by rushing to buy even more.

And don’t get me wrong . . . I have nothing against someone trying to save money and buy their children gifts or things for their households. Though to me there is something very wrong with needing to spend the night outside to do so, and then pushing, shoving or clawing your way into that store to make those purchases. Being that almost every year someone has been hospitalized, if not killed, after being trampled, I do feel it is safe to say that nothing, absolutely nothing, is worth that risk.

I guess this year these sales stuck an even deeper chord, knowing just how many people are currently displaced following Hurricane Sandy. People lost their lives, their homes, all their possessions in this disaster. I have friends staying in others friends’ living rooms. Not for the night, not for the week, but for months. Endless months. And so, I guess, in contrast it is hard for me to feel there is that much that I need. I have all my basics covered. There are things I want, but need is really another story altogether.

And this gift-buying follows us straight into Chanukah. Now, I realize what we do in our home is far from popular . . . but for us, it works. We do not give gifts. I know: our poor kids. But trust me, they have survived just fine. It is not that they never get gifts; it is just that we don’t give them particularly at Chanukah.

Chanukah is about remembering the miracle and how we were saved. It is about spending time with our family, and lighting the menorah, and recognizing that togetherness and acknowledgement are the true gifts in life. I don’t want my children rushing through the songs so that they open a present. Ultimately, I don’t want Chanukah to be about presents to them. And the nice thing about them not receiving gifts is that the next day in school there is no competition. They don’t come home wondering why they got clothes and their friends got iPods.

As much as we want them to appreciate what they have, we also want them to learn what it means to giveThey do get something, though. Every night they open a card with a coupon for something they can do with us. One night is a coupon for an evening at a cafe or pizza. One night is a coupon for choosing what I make for dinner. Each time it is something specific to the child, that will make him or her feel special and get some much needed individualized quality time with us . . . And they love it!

But this year, we have upped the ante. As much as we want them to appreciate what they have, we also want them to learn what it means to give. So this year, in addition to them receiving coupons from us, they will be giving them as well. Each child, according to his or her age, will need to commit to something that will help another. It can be a coupon for helping a sibling with homework, babysitting for someone in the community for free, or helping a neighbor mow the lawn. It is their choice how they want to help and what they want to do. And hopefully, they will experience firsthand how the most rewarding gift is not when you get but when you give.

In truth, we have just added to the traditional Jewish custom of giving gelt. The concept is that by giving children some coins, they will first learn the meaning of giving charity from their own money (as we give 10 percent from all our earnings to charity), but then they will also have something for themselves, something small, that they can enjoy. The word Chanukah shares the same root as the word chanech, which means “to educate.” Chanukah is about teaching our children how fortunate we have been, and how to help those less fortunate than ourselves.

To be honest, in addition to what I hope my children learn, there is a fringe benefit for me as well. By celebrating Chanukah this way, I will never, ever have to spend my night outside to get to the sale the minute the doors open. And more so, for anyone who really wants the sales . . . guess what . . . they are always after the holidays. So when everyone else is done shopping, that is when I can pick up a few things I know my kids will really love. And then I can dole out those gifts when they really deserve them or have earned them . . . not because they feel entitled to them because it is Chanukah.

Sara Esther Crispe, a writer, inspirational speaker and mother of four, is the co-director of Interinclusion, a nonprofit multi-layered educational initiative celebrating the convergence between contemporary arts and sciences and timeless Jewish wisdom. Prior to that she was the editor of TheJewishWoman.org, and wrote the popular weekly blog Musing for Meaning. To book Sara Esther for a speaking engagement, please click here.
Every situation we find ourselves in is a lesson waiting to be learned. That is what this blog is about. From the people I meet, the places I go and the experiences I have, stories emerge, each teaching me something that I hope you will find useful for your life as well.
Sara Esther CrispeSara Esther Crispe, a writer, inspirational speaker and mother of four, is the co-director of Interinclusion, a nonprofit multi-layered educational initiative celebrating the convergence between contemporary arts and sciences and timeless Jewish wisdom. Prior to that she was the editor of TheJewishWoman.org, and wrote the popular weekly blog Musing for Meaning. To book Sara Esther for a speaking engagement, please click here.
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