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Musing for Meaning

Ayelet Galena’s Impact

February 26, 2012
Ayelet Galena, of blessed memory
Ayelet Galena, of blessed memory

For the past year, tens of thousands of people followed the updates of baby Ayelet Galena as she fought a rare bone-marrow disorder. On a physical level, it was hard to imagine that the bloated and sickly dark-haired toddler was only months before the picture-perfect, blonde-haired, Gerber-looking baby. We waited for her parents to post updates, as we prayed for Ayelet to be healed from this horrific illness which plagued her small body.

And then, just one month ago, that heartbreaking post appeared:

With unstoppable tears and broken hearts we regret to announce that last night around 5AM, after hours of fighting and holding on, our precious Ayelet—the heart of our world, the light and strength for so many, could not fight any more.

She is gone.

When Seth spoke at his daughter’s funeral, he said something that shook me to my coreShe put up a serious fight, but her lungs collapsed, her blood pressure dropped and the blood could not get to her huge heart.

Baruch Dayan Emes. Her life, her strength, a blessing to so many.

The family posted the audio from her funeral, which was attended not only by family and friends, but by hundreds who felt connected to Ayelet and her family, even though they had never even met. They came because in following her story they became part of that extended family who thought, prayed and cared about Ayelet, and who gained inspiration and life lessons from her parents. And in return, her parents received much support and encouragement from all those anonymous readers.

Like so many, I had never met Seth or Hindy, although I did spend quite a few Shabbat meals with Seth’s mother, who lived in our neighborhood until recently. Their family was no stranger to tragedy. Just a few years earlier, her beloved husband, Seth’s father, was hit by a car as he jogged in our neighborhood. This dedicated and respected doctor, marathon runner and triathlon competitor, was in the best of health. And yet, in a split second his life was taken.

When Seth spoke at his daughter’s funeral, he said something that shook me to my core. Through tears of pain and tears of joy, he spoke about his precious Ayelet, and the eternal love he has for her and strength he gained from her.

He mentioned the teaching from the commentaries that Adam, the first human created, was shown the life of King David. He was told that this man had such potential and such ability, but would not be able to come into this world. Adam saw what David could accomplish, and begged G‑d to take years off of his life and give them to King David instead. And so, the seventy years that King David lived, in which he accomplished so much, were years deducted from the life of Adam.

Her story motivated so many to swab as potential donors of bone marrow,Seth remarked how he felt that his own father must have begged G‑d to do the same with his daughter. That he believed that his father allowed his life to end so early in order to allow his beautiful Ayelet to come into this world for her short time. She lived for only two years, but during that time she accomplished more than many do in a lifetime. Not only did she touch the lives of literally tens of thousands who knew her story, but her story motivated so many to swab as potential donors of bone marrow, something that will undoubtedly continue to save lives, specifically because of Ayelet, who lost her own.

If a sick little two-year-old who couldn’t walk could save lives, how much more so each and every one of us, with all the talents and abilities that have been bestowed upon us. More days than I would like to admit, I trudge through, wondering if I am accomplishing anything at all, and feeling useless. I think we all go through it to varying degrees.

But not until I heard Seth eulogize his baby did it occur to me that maybe, just maybe, some ancestor of mine, someone in my past, begged for me to come into this world. Saw what I was capable of, what I could accomplish, and asked our Creator to give me my life, to give me years, in place of maybe what could have been. I will never know. None of us ever will. But it is possible.

I am actually named after my grandmother, Sara Esther, whom I never met. She passed away suddenly when my mother was pregnant with me. My mother had not yet had a chance to tell her mother that she was pregnant. So Sara Esther passed without knowing about me at all. Her yahrtzeit was recently, the 18th of the month of Shevat, the “life” of the month of Shevat. The same month during which Ayelet passed.

But after hearing Seth’s powerful words, I wonder . . . Maybe my grandmother did know about me. Maybe she had something to do with why I am here. She was a strong, loving, giving and caring woman, who left a huge void with her absence. Without warning, from a sudden and unstoppable medical condition, she was taken from this world. But maybe, just maybe, she gave me time I didn’t even realize I was gifted. I will never know. But I do know I am her namesake, and there is a reason I am here. And any day I wonder why that is, I’d better come up with something good for an answer.

And as the Galena family mourns the loss of their beloved Ayelet, may they be comforted through knowing that Ayelet’s short life has impacted so many, and her memory and message will live on in us all.

(The pictures below are of Ayelet month-to-month throughout her two precious years.)

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.

Our Hospital Stay

February 19, 2012

For the second time in the same week, I found myself sitting in the emergency room with my youngest daughter. Yes, the same one who not long ago was in the hospital for severe stomach pain. This time, though, they didn’t release us after the standard tests, but chose to admit us for observation. So, here I sit in her hospital room, hoping to hear that there is absolutely nothing wrong.

After numerous visits from nurses, assistants and doctors, I have reached the conclusion that the hospital is a very optimistic place. And no, it is not the lack of sleep or food talking (that could make another article :) ). But when you spend hours undergoing tests, exams, prodding and poking, you recognize that even the slightest change is appreciated, recognized and focused on. And not only is a change already positive, but the lack of something negative is too.

Here in the hospital it is a given that things aren’t greatUnfortunately, I spend a lot of my time focused on what is wrong, on what could be changed, on what could be better. And that is when, overall, things are really pretty good. But here in the hospital it is a given that things aren’t great. That is the rule. That is understood. So the focus is not on what is wrong but on what is right, how to treat what isn’t right—and not just the symptoms, but the cause.

So, when they did her ultrasound, everything was about what wasn’t wrong. Fortunately, they didn’t see excess water. Fortunately, her appendix looked good. Fortunately, there were no obstructions. But they didn’t stop there. Now the question was figuring out, then, why she was still in pain. And they are not going to send us home until that has been solved.

Outside of the hospital, where the “healthy” people live, for some reason it is okay to be in pain, to live in pain, to settle for pain. Be it emotional pain or spiritual pain. For physical pain we run to the doctor, but so many of us allow other pain to stay in our lives, never pushing to treat the root of the issue. And often, when we have pain, it blocks our ability to see the positive, to focus on what doesn’t hurt. Because pain blocks out other feelings. Pain manages to overwhelm everything else.

The Maggid of Mezeritch teaches us that a small hole in the body causes a large hole in the soul. Meaning that if we don’t get to the root of an issue, it will keep causing more damage, on deeper and deeper levels. On the flip side, we can thereby understand that if we are experiencing something on a soul level, it will eventually manifest on a physical level as well.

If we don’t get to the root of an issue, it will keep causing more damageIt is here, though, in the hospital that they not only try to cure the problem, but teach how to deal with it. First, acknowledge the symptoms, and don’t ignore anything out of the ordinary. Second, dig deeper, test, look for what could be causing the symptoms. Third, treat the root of the problem. And throughout, notice the positive, what is healthy; rule out what it isn’t; and keep going until the root is treated. Unfortunately, all too many of us mask our symptoms, but never get to that deeper level causing the pain. And worse, all too many of us settle for a life of pain . . .

I am hoping they will send us home soon. But before they do, I want to make sure they figure out why we came—the reason for why we came in the first place—so that we don’t have to come back! After all, that is what a hospital is supposed to be. Which is why the Lubavitcher Rebbe explained that we shouldn’t refer to it in Hebrew as a beit cholim (“house for the sick”), but as a beit refuah, a “house of healing”—for that is the only option for pain and sickness, to be healed.

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 Power of Writing

February 12, 2012

We had just moved back to the States, after nine years of living in Israel, when my job began at Chabad.org. I had felt there was the need for a site by women and for women, and pitched this desire of mine to fortunately welcoming ears. And thus began my position as the editor of TheJewishWoman.org.

I had hoped that the site would reach and inspire women from all walks of life. I had hoped they would find the articles meaningful, stimulating and thought-provoking. And I had hoped that a community would be created where women would feel comfortable sharing and connecting with one another.

I had felt there was the need for a site by women and for womenBut then, something happened beyond my expectations. I started to see how through the power of the written word lives could be changed, transformed, and in some cases, even saved.

I love to write. I think through words, and need to write to digest and express what goes on in my mind and heart. And what a blessing that my job has been to read and work with the words of others. When someone submits a piece, there is such vulnerability and trust that is needed. And I take that very seriously. They have put themselves out there, given me a piece of themselves through their writing, and it is my responsibility to honor and treasure that. I hope I have done so.

I recently wrote a piece about our beloved crossing guard Mr. Bill. Because of the cold, I have been driving my kids to school lately, so I never had a chance to speak to him after giving him the article. The other day, though, I was at the school, and saw him. Not only did he thank me, but he told me that his wife framed the article, and that when he read it, it made him cry. I can’t tell you how much that moved me.

But more than that, it made me realize that we all have so much to say and such powerful words to use. And no matter who you ask, they will tell you that at one point or another they thought about wanting to write something, but didn’t have the time, the energy, the ability or the talent. But we owe it to ourselves and to the rest of the world to write what only we can write. We all have a story, an insight, a perspective like no other. And we all have loved ones in our lives who would love to read and hold on to to the words we choose to express our feelings for them.

This week, in conjunction with the 22nd of the month of Shevat, we celebrate the sixth birthday of TheJewishWoman.org, which was created in memory and honor of the Rebbe’s wife, Rebbetzin Chaya Mushka Schneerson. She was a woman whose words, actions and deeds impacted and affected all who knew her and all who knew of her. She exemplified the grace and power of the Jewish woman, and so her yahrtzeit became the launch date of the site.

We all have a story, an insight, a perspective like no otherThinking back over the years, I reflect on the thousands of pieces that we have reviewed and published from women across the world, spanning all ages, cultures and backgrounds. Through our words, we have created support, guidance and relationships. Through our words, we have all become better people. And as I sit and write, all I can say is thank you for allowing me the opportunity to write, read and be read. It is a gift unlike any other.

And please, if you have the time to read this article, you have the time to write something, anything, to anyone. Pull out that keyboard or that paper, and just start. Write down what you are grateful for. Write to your mother or father or husband or wife or daughter or son. Write to your best friend. Write to yourself. Just write!

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.

What I Wish I Knew at 13

February 5, 2012

A year ago I wrote in shock as my oldest daughter became a bat mitzvah, at the age of twelve. As overwhelming as that was, at the time she still looked more like a girl than a woman, and I was still taller than her. No longer. As my daughter now reaches her thirteenth birthday—officially making me the mother of a teenager—all has changed.

My daughter now stands an inch taller, with quite a few more to grow before she is done. Her features are more pronounced, and people assume she is sixteen, not days from thirteen. This scares me. Terrifies me, actually.

I really don’t want to live through it againWe have been blessed with a beautiful daughter, inside and out, with passion, intelligence, creativity, drive, determination and character. And yet, along with being a teenager comes a whole lot of peer pressure, insecurity and immaturity. I remember, when I was this age, thinking my mother didn’t understand and couldn’t relate to me. It was as if she never went through it and had no idea what I was dealing with. My problem is the opposite. I remember it too well. It is too fresh. And I really, really don’t want to live through it again.

Yesterday I took my daughter and her friend to the mall. Amazingly enough, she is not embarrassed for me to walk beside her as she shops. (Okay, maybe she is, but she knows that this is her only option if she wants to go shopping.) We went from store to store with blasting music, clothes that were hard to tell if they were shirts, skirts or dresses, and tweens and teens hooked arm in arm swarming around (scary, now I sound like my mother).

The other kids did not have a parent in tow, and I watched them sway back and forth, laughing with their friends, head thrown back for effect, and a quick flick of the hair as they looked around, wondering if anyone noticed them. They wore a ridiculous amount of makeup and women’s clothes on girls’ bodies.

My daughter and her friend either didn’t seem to notice, or played it so I wouldn’t notice that they noticed. They did their thing. Bought a few shirts and seemed to enjoy the fun of just looking around. But they no longer have the luxury of just being on the looking end. They were noticed. Others looked at them. The downside of being beautiful is getting unwanted attention. And lots of it. My daughter was stopped by a modeling agency asking if she would consider being a model. Teen boys would turn their heads as we passed (and let me tell you how disappointed they were when my glare was the only reaction they got). And this time around, my daughter didn’t notice. But how long until she does?

Instilling a child with a sense of self, purpose, and a future-oriented frame of mind is quite the challenge. It is so hard to tell her not to worry about what people say or think now, but to focus on where she is heading and who she wants to be. In a way, I am telling her to ignore the present—which is virtually impossible.

. . . they no longer have the luxury of just being on the looking end. They were noticedI know that if she discovers I am writing this, you will actually never see it. But I know that if I write to her, she probably won’t really read it. So I am hoping that by writing to you, for her, even if she ignores this letter—maybe, just maybe, your teenager will read it.

Here are all the things I want to tell her, and to tell all those teenage girls out there (sorry, you have to wait til my son is older for my advice to teenage boys). Here are all the things I wished someone told me (they probably did, and I was too cool to pay attention). But either way, hoping this somehow penetrates:

1. When you are thirteen, adulthood seems so far away and boring. But you are at the age now where the decisions you make and the things you do will help set the direction you are headed. Look at the adults you know. The ones you respect, the ones you want to be like. And think about how you need to act in order to one day emulate them.

2. I know looks are important, but they are not who you are. Do not rely on your looks, ever, as a substitute for being the kind of person you need to be. And don’t ever judge another based solely on his or her looks. Speak to others in a way that shows them your soul, the amazing human being that you are, and do not allow them to just see you as another pretty face. This is why we say in Eishet Chayil, “Sheker hachein v’hevel hayofi, isha yir’at Hashem hi tithallal”—grace is false and beauty is nothing, but a woman who has awe of her Creator, she is to be praised.

3. Other kids can be mean. And while they appear so confident, it is really their insecurity that is driving their taunts and looks. You are better than that, and you need to know that your self-worth does not come from outside of yourself, but from within.

4. When someone bothers you, before you respond, look within. The Baal Shem Tov teaches us that what annoys or upsets us in another are often the very things that we are uncomfortable about within ourselves.

5. Even though you are “only” a teenager, you can impact the world around you. Every mitzvah you do, every person you help, makes a difference. Buying things for yourself can be fun, but giving to another will ultimately give you something you cannot ever buy. I want you to babysit and make money and buy things you love, but never forget that the first 10 percent from your earnings goes straight to tzedakah, to helping others.

6. It is hard being the oldest. It is not something you asked for, but something you have to deal with either way. Recognize and realize how much your younger siblings look up to you and admire you. I know they can drive you crazy, but the way you act, the things you say, set an example for them. And not just them, but their friends and your friends as well. Like it or not, you are a leader, and leaders have to think not just about themselves, but about the impact they have on others as well.

Never underestimate the power your friends will have in your life7. You are soon heading into high school. To a great extent, you are embarking on your last stage at home. After high school, you will most likely leave the house and go away to learn and further your growth into an independent adult. Don’t rush things. You have your whole life to be a grownup. Allow yourself to be a child for as long as you can.

8. As hard as this is to admit, the biggest influence will most likely be your friends. We can teach you the right things and create a healthy home environment, but never underestimate the power your friends will have in your life. Choose them wisely and for the right reasons. A real friend is one who will support you and be there for you regardless of what you do or don’t do, wear or don’t wear. A real friend is the one around whom you are comfortable being the real you. In life we make lots of acquaintances, and many we can be friendly with, but make sure, before you invest your feelings with a friend, that this is the type of person you want in your life for a very long time.

9. While I can tell you all I want that I am always here for you if you want or need to talk, I know you may not want to come to me. But please, go to someone if you need to talk. Now is the time to choose a mashpia, someone you admire and look up to and respect. Find someone you feel comfortable with and can speak to if things get tough or if you just want another perspective. Of course I would love it if you would come to me, but I get it, I am your mom, and being that I hold punishing rights, I guess that doesn’t make me too objective.

10. Finally, know that you are loved and beloved to so many. I remember feeling alone, at times hating myself and not thinking I was really worthy of love. You are never alone. You have a mother and father and sisters and brother and grandparents and aunts and uncles and cousins and friends who think the world of you. And for me and your father, you are the one who made us parents. You are the one who made our parents grandparents. When you came into this world, you changed our lives forever. And you continue to impact the world through the tremendous things you do and the tremendous things you are capable of. I just hope and pray for you that one day, soon, you will see in yourself what we already see in you. Thank you for being you, and know that you make us so very proud. We are so blessed to have you in our lives.

Happy Birthday!

Mommy

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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