Dei'ah veDibur - Information & Insight

A Window into the Chareidi World

17 Elul 5765 - September 21, 2005 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly










Produced and housed by
Shema Yisrael Torah Network
Shema Yisrael Torah Network











Home and Family

by Sara Glaser

Presenting an autobiography by Sara Glaser, initiator of the popular Lifesaver Guide, making its debut in YATED.


"I took stock of my life, and my goals for the future. Were my priorities and activities leading me closer to Him? Was I accomplishing enough? I made an alphabetized list, from A through Z, writing down everything for which I was grateful to Hashem. I read them regularly. I still do . . . "

The precious gift of Time-Life and other strong Elul messages



In 1983, three years after becoming Torah-observant, while working at my desk at home, I suddenly felt a sharp pain in my chest. I put down my pen and touched the area. I felt a large lump. I was shocked and frightened. What is this?! I wasn't aware of it until this moment. Could it be that I had not noticed it before? I went to the mirror to examine the area. I saw a large round protrusion. It hurt when I touched it.

As I reached for the phone to call my doctor, I realized it was after office hours. The next day was Labor Day. The office would be closed. I would have to wait almost forty hours before I could see the doctor. Each hour seemed like an eternity. When I was finally able to call the office and explain the situation, I was told to come right in.

After the examination, the doctor said, "You need to see a surgeon right away. It might be cancer, and a mastectomy may be necessary." I was surprised to hear her suggest a particular treatment before the illness was properly diagnosed. I said nothing. I was frightened at what I just heard, and had been worrying about it for the past two days.

"You need to take x-rays right away and bring them to the surgeon. I'll make the appointment now." After making a few phone calls, she said, "You won't be able to get the x-rays taken for a couple of days. Should I make the appointment?"

"Would waiting until after Rosh Hashonoh endanger my life?" "No, I don't think so." I opted to wait. Waiting to find out what is wrong when one is ill is most difficult and stressful, as anyone who has experienced it will agree.

My first stop after leaving the doctor's office was to the library. After scanning all the books on mammary cancer, I selected five to take home. I had my homework to do, just in case.

My praying that Rosh Hashonoh was with more than the usual intensity. I kept asking Hashem to help me understand what I should be learning from all this.

I had no doubts that what was happening was for my good, but what I did not understand, was what Hashem wanted me to do. How could I grow, how could I get closer to Him, if I did not know what I needed to work on, to do teshuvoh on? I begged Hashem for help and understanding.

I took stock of my life and my goals for the future. Were my priorities and activities leading me closer to Him? Was I accomplishing enough? I made an alphabetized list, from A through Z, writing down everything for which I was grateful to Hashem. I read them regularly. I still do this, adding more things over the years as I think of them. It heightens my gratitude to Hashem and reminds me not to take His many gifts for granted.

The one possible answer I came up with during this ordeal was the realization of how precious time is. Each moment spent is gone forever and can never be returned. I don't know when Hashem will take me, so I must make wise use of the time He gives me. Time-life, is a gift from Him, and most precious. I must not waste it.

At the time, however, this did not satisfy me. It seemed too simple and obvious. I felt that it could not be the only reason why Hashem gave me this experience. But I had no other insights to enlighten me. In the future, however, I was better able to internalize this knowledge. It was then that I understood how profound this answer was. I realized what a world of difference there is between knowing something intellectually or emotionally, and internalizing it, having both the mind and the heart, as one unit, to understand and believe something. The latter is powerful. It becomes a part of me.


For example, as a child growing up in Brooklyn, New York, I knew I was poor. I was born a year before the Great Depression of 1929. I could see how other children my age lived and what they had in comparison to me, some more, some less. I never went hungry, as some children I knew did. For a while we did not have beds, so we slept on the floor, but it and the linen were 'hospital'-clean.

These and other things, such as having very few toys or games, never bothered me. I possessed one game during my childhood. It was a board game called the Big Apple (which was what New York City was often called). I also had a pair of roller skates, jacks, and eventually, a bicycle. I enjoyed them all, as well as jumping rope and hopscotch.

I never felt deprived or sad because I didn't have more things. I don't think that occurred to most children in my generation. We had each other to play with and used our imagination and creativity to conjure up what we wanted or needed for the moment, such as using a broomstick for a baseball bat. This can be even more fun and challenging than having everything handed to you. When I wanted ten cents for a treat, I would search for discarded deposit bottles and return them to the store for the money.

Reading and learning were, and still are my favorite activities and the public libraries supplied me with what I wanted, free of charge! While growing up, reading was more than just fun. I could forget for a time what was sad or painful for me by entering other peoples' lives. The stories were filled with excitement, laughter, drama, or mystery.

When I was twelve, I remember thinking the days were never long enough for me to do all I wanted to, and immediately realized how lucky I was.

My friends could not understand why I did not look forward to vacations. Instead, I anticipated the times when school would resume. Learning was fun, my grades were good, and I felt better about myself there than at home.

When I was sixteen, a talent scout from the famous Warner Brothers movie studio, who saw me perform in an amateur theatrical production, offered to have my mother and me go to Hollywood so I could take a screen test. Momma refused, saying she did not raise her daughter to be in show business.

I was devastated. After he left, I asked her what was wrong with show business. She replied that it is extremely difficult for people in that work not to 'burn the candles at both ends.' I had no idea what she meant, until years later. As an observant Jew, I am grateful to her for that decision.

But feeling poor is different from knowing one is poor. Feeling poor made me uncomfortable emotionally. I felt embarrassed and ashamed to be poor. Having to wear the dresses the 'Relief" (as the welfare agency was called in the 1930s) gave to its recipients is one example.

These dresses were dull and matronly, and hung loose from my shoulders like a potato sack. Every time I wore them to school I dreaded it, thinking that all the students and teachers would know that my family was on Relief. I felt like I was waving a flag in the air announcing I was poor.

Other times I felt poor were also when I was in elementary school. I would rush home at lunchtime, drop my books on a kitchen chair, and with two big potholders, carry a hot baking pan from store to store on our street selling Momma's delicious potato or kasha knishes or cheese and raisin danishes. If there was time, I would get a second tray and continue selling the knishes or danishes until they were all sold, or there was no time left.

It never took long for storekeepers and their customers to empty the pan. Almost everyone in the neighborhood seemed to know of and enjoy my mother's homemade products. I would then run back home, gobble down a sandwich and a drink, and return to school.

Selling Momma's food on the street was very difficult to do because I felt like I was begging, asking others for help. My parents divorced when I was three. I never told Momma how I felt. I was old enough to know we needed the money. Besides, sharing this with her would have only made her sadder than she already was.


The answer to what was wrong with me was inconclusive, at the beginning. After a time, the lump disappeared and the pain was almost gone. The pathologists at the prestigious university hospital, where the biopsy and subsequent lumpectomy were done, said they had never encountered a case like mine.

My doctor told me that the head pathologist in the hospital, who had thirty years of experience, said this case was a miracle. Both the hospital and the United States Army Department of Pathology, to whom pathologists from around the world go with special problems, agreed that this was a first of its kind.

A number of specialists met several times before deciding I indeed had cancer, and had to have annual checkups from then on, but it was no longer there. I was also told that my case was unique, and was written up in medical journals.

I was extremely grateful to our Creator for the miraculous outcome. I was also grateful that He guided me to read books on the subject. As a result, the doctors I chose performed a lumpectomy instead of the much more invasive and more commonly-used mastectomy.


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